News


Former Mortgage Company Employees Charged in Multi-Million Dollar Racketeering Case

7/19/2007
 
A three-year joint investigation by the Tampa Police Department (TPD), Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency (HCCPA), Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services (PCDJCS), Florida Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution (OSWP), and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has led to the arrests of five defendants charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, obtaining of a mortgage by false representation, and second-degree grand theft by fraudulently obtaining mortgages in the names of victims solicited for home improvement projects and for obtaining fraudulent loans on their own personal properties. The individuals arrested include Scott Almeida, Orson Benn, Adrienne White, Frank Giffone, and Samuel Green.

"The allegations brought against these individuals are unspeakable. To prey on the hopes and dreams of these people who were simply trying to improve their homes is a terrible scheme and my office is committed to prosecuting those involved to the fullest extent of the law," said Attorney General Bill McCollum. "I commend the cooperation exhibited by this investigation and look forward to a positive resolution for the citizens who were victimized."

"The FDLE is committed to working with our local and state partners to investigate these types of major fraudulent schemes," said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "It is important for us to send a message that this type of criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our state."

The investigation began in 2004 when some of the victims filed complaints about incomplete and substantial construction work. The TPD and HCCPA initiated separate investigations that quickly grew from construction fraud and theft to a sophisticated mortgage fraud by a criminal enterprise. As the investigations expanded to Pinellas and Polk counties, and statewide, the FDLE and the OSWP joined to form a task force. The task force investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, issued approximately 250 subpoenas, and reviewed tens of thousands of documents.

The majority of the fraudulent loans were submitted through and funded by Argent Mortgage Company, one of the nation's largest wholesale 'sub-prime' mortgage companies. Thirty-one of these fraudulent residential mortgage loans totaling nearly $3 million are outlined in a 150-page arrest affidavit.

Two of the defendants charged, Orson Benn and Samuel Green, are former high-ranking employees of Argent's White Plains, New York office. Benn and Green were instrumental in the fraud as they subverted Argent policies and approved fraudulent documents and loan packages submitted by brokers. The fraudulent loans were funded and the proceeds were distributed to the defendants. Benn received bribes or kickbacks from Scott Almeida, Frank Giffone and others associated with submitting the fraudulent loan packages for approval.

The other three defendants, Scott Almeida, Frank Giffone and Adrienne White, are all former owners, principals or employees of the Hillsborough County mortgage broker companies Advanced Mortgage Solutions and Consumer Lending Resources. In addition to the mortgage brokerage businesses, the defendants operated two home improvement companies: Premier Quality Renovations and Florida Beautiful Construction.

In addition to the construction-related mortgage fraud cases, Almeida submitted fraudulent documents in support of at least two mortgages for his own personal property and for close associates of the criminal enterprise. In addition to Argent, fraudulent loans were also submitted by Almeida and processed and approved by Pinnacle Mortgage Company, Decision One Mortgage Company and Mortgage Lenders Network USA.

In total, Almeida and his associates, through various mortgage broker businesses, have submitted approximately 180 loans through Argent Mortgage Company totaling nearly $18 million. At least 129 of these loans were funded in the amount of approximately $13 million.

Argent executives and their outside legal counsel have cooperated with investigators and have provided information and documents to support the investigation. Argent made swift personnel decisions and conducted their own internal investigation to help prevent similar activity in the future. Argent has also communicated with and assisted the victims in this case, many of which were facing potential foreclosure actions.

The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are anticipated against other associates related to these five defendants and their criminal enterprise.
"This case is an excellent example of a specialized County level Consumer Protection Agency looking beyond the initial consumer complaints about shoddy and unfinished construction work," said Director James L. Sudberry. "This multi agency team of experienced investigators worked tirelessly uncovering a major mortgage fraud scheme that would have likely gone undetected costing citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, their homes. We still feel this may just be the tip of the iceberg."

For more information, contact:
Kevin Jackson
Chief Investigator
Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency
(813) 903-3425

Laura McElroy
Police Spokesperson
Tampa Police Department
(813) 276-3779

Chris Orlando
Public Information Officer
Argent Mortgage
(714) 541-9960 extension 12308

Sandi Copes
Press Secretary
Office of the Attorney General
(850) 245-0150

Larry Krick
Supervisor
Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services
(727) 464-6200

Trena Reddick
Public Information Officer
FDLE - Tampa Bay
(813) 878-7239 or 878-7300