Eight defendants were indicted in southern Florida last week in connection with an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme in which they allegedly bilked victims out of more than $3 million in property funds.

A grand jury in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., returned a 53-count indictment charging defendants Samantha Johnson, Scott Warren Johnson, Mary Jo Bellavia-Sabag, Shelia Darlene Henry, Christie M. Eker, Lawrence Joel Bochner, Danielle Messano and Yizhac Sabag with conspiring to defraud owners of residential properties located in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, according to a U.S. Attorney’s office statement.

All of the defendants named in the indictment, except defendant Messano, are charged with violations in addition to the conspiracy count, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, filing false tax returns and tax evasion.

According to the indictment, Samantha Johnson and Bellavia-Sabag, both licensed mortgage brokers, orchestrated a scheme in which they fraudulently deeded residential properties in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to themselves, their aliases and their nominee corporations. Fraudulent and forged quitclaim deeds were recorded in the public records in an effort to further the scheme.

Samantha Johnson and Bellavia-Sabag made money from the scheme by selling the fraudulently obtained properties to unsuspecting third parties or obtaining loans secured by the properties, which ultimately ended up in default.

If convicted of conspiracy, defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. The mail fraud and wire fraud convictions carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and the money laundering counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to at least $500,000. If convicted of tax evasion and false tax return counts, defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine and a statutory sentence of three years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, respectively.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Lanigan and trial attorney William J. Lovett, Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

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