Mortgage fraud task force charges 27 South Florida residents in fraudulent loan scams

6 people from Palm Beach County indicted

Six people, including one Palm Beach County resident, have been indicted on charges relating to $9.2 million in fraudulent loans received for homes in suburban Lake Worth's Country Cove Estates.

The indictments were announced today in conjunction with charges levied against a total of 27 South Florida residents in alleged schemes that resulted in more than $30 million in fraudulent loans being awarded during real estate's boom years.

Those charged include title agents, mortgage brokers, attorneys and Realtors. Investigators from the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which is led by the U.S. Attorney's Office, are credited with gathering the information that led to the indictments.

"As these cases illustrate, mortgage fraud has permeated every level of the industry, from straw buyers, to loan processors, to title agents and even attorneys," said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer.

Charged in the Country Cove Estates scheme are Ghaith Al Nahar, 40, formerly of Boynton Beach; Michelle Austin Wilks, 38, of Parkland; Romy Defay, 28, of West Palm Beach; Lucien Laguerre, 37, of Lauderhill; Jeffery Gilbert, 53, of Miramar; and Philip Jay Newman, 58, of Miami.

According to the indictment, Al Nahar, who operated Best Decisions Home Mortgage Inc., in Lake Worth, and Defay, would recruit straw buyers for properties. The alleged straw buyers - Laguerre, Gilbert and Jay Newman - allowed their identities to be used to purchase properties in exchange for a fee.

In connection with the purchase of the homes, Austin Wilks, who was president for Fantastic Title Services in Boca Raton and Direct Title & Escrow Services in Fort Lauderdale, would allegedly prepare false closing documents that showed the buyers put cash down, when they did not.

In some cases, the closing documents also reflected higher purchase prices so the lender would fund the loans for a higher value. It is also alleged that money for the homes would be diverted to the defendants for their personal use or to further the fraud.

Nine homes in Country Cove Estates, located near Lantana Road and Lyons Road, were included in the alleged scheme. One 5,200-square-foot home on Pineville Drive was purchased for $1.2 million in April 2007. It is currently valued by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's office at $344,769 and has foreclosures filed against it by both the bank and homeowners association.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and substantive wire fraud. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment on each county.

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