NEWARK—Two Brooklyn men were charged in federal court today for allegedly defrauding homeowners facing foreclosure in Elizabeth, Bergenfield and Paterson.
Garth Celestine, 44, and Phil A. Simon, 34, both better known collectively as “Home Savers Consulting Corporation,” were arrested without incident this morning at their residences and charged with attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a home foreclosure scheme, FBI Special Agent In Charge Weysan Dun announced.
“Let me make this crystal clear: anyone engaged in any type of mortgage fraud scheme will most definitely be investigated, caught, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Dun said. “It is well known that the collapse of our housing market was a significant contributor to the dire economic circumstances our nation is facing.”
Celestine and Simon owned and operated Home Savers, which held itself out as a foreclosure rescue company, with offices in, Brooklyn and Freeport, New York. The company conducted business in both New York and New Jersey, officials said.
According to the complaint, Celestine and Simon allegedly conspired with each other to defraud both homeowners facing foreclosure and mortgage lenders by making materially false representations and promises and causing wire transfers to perpetuate the scheme. A key aspect of the scheme was the targeted victims: homeowners with substantial equity in their homes who were facing foreclosure because of an inability to make the monthly payments.
The criminal complaint specifically alleges five incidents of fraudulent mortgage loan applications generated by the defendants in August and September of 2005 for properties located in Bergenfield, Paterson and Elizabeth. The defendants are suspected of additional incidents in New York, but have not been charged in those matters.
Based on the complaint, there were three separate groups of victims. First, there were the defrauded homeowners. Celestine and Simon would promise to help the homeowners keep their homes by avoiding foreclosure and repairing their damaged credit. The homeowners would be required to allow the title of the homes to be put in the names of “straw buyers” (third party purchasers) for one year –all with the promise of obtaining more favorable mortgages on those homes and having the title returned to them at the end of the one year period. Furthermore, Celestine and Simon allegedly told the homeowners that any equity withdrawn from their homes would be kept in escrow and used to pay the mortgages and expenses on those homes, as well as to repair the original owners’ credit.
The second victim-group consisted of the straw-buyers. Celestine and Simon allegedly recruited individuals with good credit scores to act as “buyers” of the homes facing foreclosure. This was accomplished by misrepresenting to the straw-buyers that they were helping the true owners to “save” their homes. The straw-buyers were also paid a fee up to $10,000 per property in exchange for their participation in the transactions.
The third group of victims were the mortgage lenders. Based on the criminal complaint, Celestine and Simon submitted and caused to be submitted fraudulent loan applications to lenders in the straw-buyers’ names. The applications contained false personal and financial information about the straw-buyers, most importantly their income, assets, and debt.
The combination of the high equity properties, the good credit ratings of the straw-buyers, the false information in the loan applications, and the promise that the straw-buyers intended to live in the homes in question all unfairly influenced the mortgage lenders into granting the mortgages. Celestine and Simon also allegedly applied to different lenders for multiple mortgages on the same properties at the same time to extract the maximum available equity from each property.
According to the complaint, Celestine and Simon attended each loan closing and controlled the payout of the loan proceeds. Once all the homeowner’s debts and other fees were paid off, the remainder of the loan proceeds was deposited in one or more of three different company accounts owned and controlled by Celestine and Simon. However, Celestine and Simon allegedly kept every penny for themselves.
Furthermore, the complaint charges that Celestine and Simon eventually failed to make the mortgage payments in nearly every case and caused the loans to default. In the end, Celestine and Simon caused lenders to fund more than $10 million worth of fraudulent loans and stole $1.5 million worth of equity from the properties.
If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of up to thirty years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine, or both.
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