When Carlos Rafael Castaneda Mendez launched a fraudulent mortgage loan scheme, prosecutors said he had four high-end South Florida residential properties in his sights that neither he nor his accomplices owned.
Castaneda is one of seven people convicted this week for their role in an allegedly $ 10 million mortgage fraud and identity theft program.
From May 2019 to May 2020, the strategy was to impersonate landowners with fake passports and driver’s licenses, open bank accounts on behalf of the owners, and take out real estate loans, the indictment said. The co-conspirators used the money to fund payments for a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and watches.
Step one in the act: Finding luxury homes with owners absent and no outstanding loans or liens, according to court records.
Ringleader Castaneda agreed on two condos in Oceana Bal Harbor, an apartment in the Mei apartment in Miami Beach and a six-bedroom Pinecrest mansion on 9000 Southwest 63rd Court, prosecutors say.
The seven co-conspirators received reduced sentences after pleading guilty on a number of charges and signing agreements and declarations, court records show.
Castaneda was sentenced to 78 months in prison, Alejandro Boada Oliveros to 46 months, Jonnathan Jesus Gonzalez to 44 months, Yanjeisi’s Alejandra Pompa Villafane to 28 months, Lilia Rosa Morales Moreno to 30 months and Katherine Hansen Mendoza to seven months. All of them are from Miami, except for Villafane, who is from Hialeah.
Isbel Rodriguez Batista, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison, is from Teaneck, New Jersey.
Castaneda’s lawyer said he could face up to 121 months in prison, but his sentence was reduced “because of his assumption of responsibility and other mitigating factors”.
“I think that was a sufficient but no more than necessary sentence,” said attorney Sherleen Mendez.
Lawyers for some of the others alleged their clients had subordinate roles or were victims of fraudulent exploitation.
Morales Moreno, a “struggling immigrant”, was manipulated by one of the other convicts to become involved in the conspiracy, said attorney Celeste Siblesz-Higgins.
“He took advantage of her situation, seduced her, and then used her relationship to induce her to commit a crime. Even so, she admitted her involvement to the judge, who sentenced her fairly and appropriately, ”said Siblesz-Higgins, who did not identify the collaborator who exploited Moreno. “South Florida is full of scammers who take advantage of the rich and the less fortunate.”
According to Morales Moreno, she posed as the owner of one of the Oceana units using a forged Venezuelan passport with her own photo in order to obtain a $ 1.1 million loan. The passport was created by others in the system using the real owner’s name and the “Cedula” number, the Venezuelan equivalent of a social security number.
Rodriguez Batista was involved in an attempt to borrow $ 700,000 but it failed, her attorney Silvia Beatriz Pinera-Vazquez said. The court agreed that she “played a minimal role in the conspiracy,” and the court and prosecutors also agreed that she was not responsible for redress.
“MS. Rodriguez was the only defendant who did not benefit from the system,” said Pinera-Vazquez. “During the sentencing, Ms. Rodriguez expressed her sincere remorse to the court for her actions on the case.”
According to her testimony, she posed as the owner of the Mei apartment using a forged Spanish passport with her photo on it. But when she tried to take out the loan in May 2020, she was arrested by an undercover agent posing as a loan processor after she signed the mortgage documents, her statement said.
As for Gonzalez, “he and his girlfriend were taken advantage of by a more sophisticated person who was using them to commit a serious financial crime,” his lawyer Ana Davide said via email. Gonzalez “took responsibility and is ready to get on with his life,” she said.
Hansen attempted to transfer $ 305,000 from one of the fraudulently opened bank accounts at a TD bank in Miami. She said she was using a fake Venezuelan driver’s license and passport with her photo but with the name and cedula number of the real owner of the Pinecrest home. When the transfer failed due to lack of funds, an off duty officer from the bank branch contacted Gonzalez, who was waiting in front of the bank in a white Range Rover.
In the car, the officer saw a driver’s license with a photo of Hansen in the cup holder and asked Gonzalez about it, according to Hansen’s testimony. Gonzalez said it was his girlfriend’s in the bank. The officer went back to the bank and asked Hansen for identification, and she showed him the forged documents. She was arrested and then, according to her testimony, confessed to her true identity.
Hansen’s, Oliveros and Villafane’s lawyers have not responded to requests for comment.
Luxury residential real estate in South Florida often appears in allegedly fraudulent plans.
In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil lawsuit against a Miamian who allegedly ran a $ 66 million payday loan program and diverted some of the money to pay a $ 1.5 million unit at Epic Residences & Hotel had.