Banker Sent to Prison for Taking More Than $1 Million in Bribes
Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily W. Allen (619) 546-9738
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – September 8, 2015
SAN DIEGO – Robert Moreno, a GMAC banker, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez to 37 months in prison for his role in a widespread commercial bribery and tax evasion scheme.
Moreno admitted accepting more than $1 million in bribes while he worked for GMAC in return for rigging bids for secondary market mortgages in favor of his preferred customers. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Benitez described Moreno as “the kingpin in this whole nasty affair,” and noted that the bribe payments had an adverse economic impact on the market. He ordered Moreno to pay back $1,143,560 in restitution to GMAC and an additional $140,941 to the IRS.
According to court records, Moreno admitted that between December 2011 and July 2013, he used his position and influence at GMAC to ensure that his preferred customers, including San Diego businessman Israel Hechter and Woodland Hills businessman Ben Keisari, won their bids to purchase mortgage loans that were being resold by GMAC. In order to ensure Hechter’s and Keisari’s bids won, Moreno would alter other bids, reject bids, and erase or ignore bids from qualified competitors, so that his corrupt customers would appear to be the most qualified bidders. Moreno also provided Hechter and Keisari with “inside information” about prices and competing bids, giving them a leg up in the bidding process and ensuring that they won the most lucrative deals.
In exchange, Hechter and Keisari, and others who worked for them, delivered bribe payments to Moreno totaling more than $1 million. Initially, Moreno arranged to be paid by personal check or in hand-delivered cash payments in order to conceal the bribes and avoid reporting them to the IRS. For example, Hechter recruited his father to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bribes to Moreno on New York City street corners and at a car wash. In a similar vein, Moreno would meet Keisari in Las Vegas hotels and other places to arrange in-person deliveries of tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Moreno never disclosed the income on his 2011 and 2012 tax returns.
As the amount of the bribe payments increased, Moreno revised the plan to create a “cover story” that could be used to explain his illegal activity. He entered into sham “consulting” agreements with Hechter and Keisari, to make it appear as if the bribes were legitimate fees paid for services unrelated to Moreno’s work at GMAC. Using a business bank account opened for the purpose of receiving these bogus “consulting” payments, Moreno took in $550,000 in bribes. When later confronted by federal agents, Moreno stuck to the cover story and claimed that the bribe payments were consulting fees for legitimate work. Eventually, in October 2014, Moreno pleaded guilty and admitted his role the bribery scheme.
Including Moreno, over half a dozen defendants have been convicted for their roles in this bank bribery ring. Hechter, the owner of San Diego-based mortgage investment firms Ocean 18, LLC, and Note Tracker Corporation, pleaded guilty in September 2014. As part of his guilty plea, he admitted that he paid bribes to Moreno and to Lynda Sanabria, another banker who sold mortgages on the secondary market on behalf of JP Morgan Chase Bank. Sanabria also pleaded guilty, and admitted receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe payments from Hechter in return for her influence over Chase’s mortgage sales.
Zeev Hechter, Amir Hechter, and Jack Prober also pleaded guilty and admitted that they participated in the bribery on behalf of Ocean 18, LLC. Both Prober and Amir Hechter admitted writing personal checks to Moreno and Sanabria in order to assist the bankers in evading taxes on the illegal income. Zeev Hechter admitted hand-delivering approximately $330,000 in cash to Moreno. Ben Keisari, who operated the business BGK Investments out of Woodland Hills, California, also pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme. Keisari admitted paying more than $350,000 in bribes to Moreno in return for Moreno’s help ensuring that BGK Investments won its bids to purchase mortgage notes from GMAC.
Moreno is the fifth defendant in this bribery ring to be sentenced. On March 2, 2015, Judge Benitez sentenced Zeev Hechter to six months in custody and ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine and restitution of $165,000. On May 11, 2015, Judge Benitez sentenced Amir Hechter to 18 months in prison for his role in the offense, and ordered him to pay a $25,000 fine and restitution of $63,474. On June 1, 2015, Judge Benitez sentenced Lynda Sanabria to six months in prison followed by six months of home confinement, and ordered her to pay $40,420 in restitution to the IRS. And on August 28, 2015, Judge Benitez sentenced Israel Hechter to 18 months in custody, along with restitution of nearly $400,000.
Jack Prober and Ben Keisari are both scheduled to be sentenced on October 18, 2015, at 9:00 am. Each of these defendants will also be sentenced by Judge Benitez.
U.S. Attorney Duffy praised the coordinated efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation to dismantle Moreno’s bank bribery ring.
DEFENDANT SENTENCED TODAY:
Robert Moreno, 14CR2277-BEN Age: 42 Tempe, AZ
Israel Hechter, 14CR2703-BEN Age: 47 San Diego, CA
Amir Hechter, 14CR2701-BEN Age: 42 San Diego, CA
Jack Prober, 14CR2704-BEN Age: 56 La Jolla, CA
Zeev Hechter, 14CR2702-BEN Age: 68 Aventura, FL
Lynda Sanabria, 14CR2980-BEN Age: 51 Rockwall, TX
John Crisci, 14CR3269-BEN Age: 33 San Diego, CA
Ben Keisari, 15CR0550-BEN Age: 31 Woodland Hills, CA
Conspiracy to commit bank bribery and tax evasion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.
Maximum Penalties: 5 years’ imprisonment, $250,000 fine or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, $100 special assessment, restitution.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General
Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation