Ohio officials are investigating a suspected mortgage fraud ring that allegedly involved buyers paying more than $250,000 over asking price for homes in upscale neighborhoods, with sellers returning the extra money.

The transactions are suspected to be part of a financial shell game in which the buyers pocket refunds from the sellers and walk away from the homes, usually purchased with no money down, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Eight transactions handled by First Liberty Title netted $1.4 million for several sham remodeling companies, police said, and other suspicious sales in Franklin and Delaware counties are under investigation.

Deals were allegedly arranged in the basement office of a Columbus restaurant that was subjected to a search warrant last week. Officials have also subpoenaed documents from an appraiser, mortgage lenders, title companies and mortgage brokers.

The buyers described themselves as Egyptian and Jordanian, the Dispatch reported, and authorities seized the passports of the restaurant’s owners. The paper reported that another couple allegedly involved in the deals has fled the country.

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