Head Of Long Island Straw Buyer Racket Gets 4-12 Years; Scam Involved Use Of Forged Deeds, Unwitting Homeowners Victimized By Identity Theft
In Nassau County, New York, the Long Island Press reports:
- A Westbury man has been sentenced to four to 12 years in prison for leading a $20 million scheme in what authorities described as the largest mortgage fraud and identity theft ring in Nassau County history.
- James Robert Sweet pleaded guilty at Nassau County court in October to enterprise corruption, grand larceny, money laundering, identity theft, scheme to defraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. The 44-year-old was also ordered to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution to lending institutions.
- Prosecutors said Sweet and Dwayne Benjamin, 44, also of Westbury, led 15 schemers who committed more than 45 fraudulent acts by stealing millions in property and mortgages over six years. Benjamin also pleaded guilty in October to related charges and will be sentenced Thursday.
- Sweet and Benjamin ran a typical mortgage fraud scheme in which they recruited so-called straw buyers to purchase a houses and secure mortgages, then kept the money, never made payments on the loan and let the home go into foreclosure. Straw buyers were paid about $10,000 for each purchase, according to investigators.
- Like similar scams that have been uncovered in recent years, the scheme involved and array of corrupt professionals. In this case they included lawyers, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, bank employees, an appraiser, a financial consultant and a U.S. Postal worker.
- In one of the fraudulent deals, the scammers “purchased” the same house twice in two weeks by exploiting a delay in filing paperwork in the county clerk’s office, stealing $390,000 in each instance.
- Prosecutors said they took the scam one step further when they submitted forged deeds to Nassau County in order to rent out some of the involved houses to tenants who qualified for subsidies before the properties were foreclosed—stealing more than $80,000 from taxpayers.
- To execute the overall scam, those involved stole the identities of multiple homeowners and an attorney.