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15 Charged In Tri-County Mortgage Fraud

11 Arrested, 4 Sought In Multimillion Dollar Fraud Case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eleven people have been arrested and four are still being sought in connection with a mortgage fraud case that spanned Flagler, Volusia and Lake counties, involved 23 homes and resulted in more than $9 million in losses.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, the Office of the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Flagler County Sheriff's Office announced the arrests at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Investigators said those arrested are charged with one count of criminal racketeering and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, both first-degree felonies.

The two-year investigation, named Operation Fast Cash Kickback, focused on a complex scheme involving home buyers, Realtors, appraisers and mortgage brokers, investigators said. They said the suspects artificially raised home prices, falsified appraisals and pocketed large amounts of cash by facilitating a series of fraudulent home sales.

The scam involved using straw buyers to purchase a home, investigators said. They said the straw buyer's Realtor then asked the seller to raise the price of the home in order for the difference to be provided back to the straw buyer for renovations. Investigators said the appraiser would then inflate the price of the home to meet the contract sales price.

At closing, a designated third party individual or shell company received the proceeds for renovations, which ranged from $25,000 to $320,000 for each sale, investigators said. They said the third party recipient then returned a majority of the money back to the straw buyer via check or wire transfer. No renovations were ever conducted on the homes, and each of the properties foreclosed a short time after the sale.

"The alleged buyer never had any intention of living or owning the residence," said Dominick Pape, of FDLE. "they would only walk away from the sale, which would end up in foreclosure of the property."

The estimated loss is about $9 million.

The following people were arrested:

Jonathan Bravo, 33, of Miami; Cristian Diaz, 34, of Doral; Jamie De La Roche, 42, of Lake Worth; Carlos Esteller, 43, of Miami; Edith Esteller, 51, of Miami; Patricia De La Espiella, 49, of Miramar; Carmen Ganem, 30, of Miami; Claudia Ganem, 36, of Miami; Argenis Lugo, 33, of Doral; Adrian Pena, 34, of Miami; and Linda Kasper, 64, of Flagler Beach.

The following four are still being sought by authorities:

Nieves Alvarez, 50, of Miami; Nelson Pinzon, 48, of Delray Beach; Cruz Urbano, 44, of Hialeah; and Randy Ly, 45, of Seattle, Wash.

Anyone with information about the suspects' location should contact their local authorities.