Three Long Island men are among seven defendants facing federal fraud charges in connection with a mortgage modification scheme in which, prosecutors said, the defendants bilked struggling homeowners out of more than $2 million instead of helping them refinance their home loans.
As many as 500 homeowners nationwide were victims of the plan, said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
He added that the defendants deceived homeowners into believing they were authorized to accept payments from residents who could take advantage of the federally subsidized Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The program is part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and is available to homeowners for free.
"As alleged, these defendants told one lie after another, purporting to help struggling homeowners looking for an end to their financial troubles but instead defrauding them out of millions," Bharara said. "This office has zero tolerance for those who would target already distressed borrowers in hopes of turning a profit at their expense, and we will continue to work to hold these and like-minded defendants accountable."
Bharara said the scheme netted the defendants $2.3 million.
Jonathan Lyons, 51, of Rockville Centre and Aren Goldfaden, 36, of East Rockaway are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Robert Georges of Manhattan, Lyons' attorney, said, "He denies the allegations and he looks forward to getting this resolved in his favor. Whatever happened is not something he knew about."
Darrell Keys, 51, of Uniondale, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud last month and he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Their attorneys could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Four other men charged in the case are Guy Samuel, 32, of Richmond Hill, Anthony Blackwell, 47, of Manhattan, Angel Gonzalez, 31, of Rosedale and Scott Schreiber, 30, of Brooklyn.
Schreiber pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud earlier this month.
The defendants' two Long Island-based firms called Company and Mortgage Modification Companies were supposed to help homeowners refinance their home loans at lower rates but they "delivered little or no service to their customers, diverting most, if not all, of the customers' payments to the Mortgage Modification Companies' owners and employees rather than using those funds to assist customers in procuring mortgage modifications," prosecutors said.
Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Christy Romero said the defendants "claimed their business was affiliated with TARP's housing program, HAMP, and instructed victims to stop paying their mortgages immediately, transfer thousands of dollars in upfront fees to their company in exchange for false promises of a guaranteed mortgage modification, and cease all communication with their mortgage lenders."
She said they simply kept the money and spent it on personal goods and services.