Federal authorities indicted four California men Thursday in connection with a bogus loan modification program that reportedly bilked hundreds of struggling homeowners out of millions of dollars nationwide at the height of the financial crisis.
According to the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), federal agents Tuesday arrested Samuel Paul Bain, 35, an owner and principal of U.S. Homeowners Relief in Orange County, Calif.; Aminullah Sarpas, a.k.a. David Sarpas, 32, another owner and principal of the businesses; Damon Grant Carriger, 36, the company’s principal sales manager; and Louis Saggiani, 64, the manager and chief accountant for the businesses. The men were charged in a 33-count indictment for a range of crimes, including conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.
“Bain, Sarpas, Carriger, and Saggiani are charged with ripping off homeowners struggling to keep a roof over their heads during the depths of the housing crisis,” said Christy Romero, Special Inspector General for TARP. According to the indictment, the quartet allegedly demanded upfront fees of up to $4,200 from homeowners in exchange for false promises of securing mortgage loan modifications on their behalf. The company touted a 97 percent success rate in securing these modifications and advertised money-back guarantees, as well as an affiliation with federal housing support programs, Romero said. “As a result, the indictment alleges that homeowners nationwide were ripped off by millions of dollars,” she said.
According to SIGTARP, customer complaints about a purported scam led the men to change the company’s name several times in an attempt to avoid attention. Originally doing business as Greenleaf Modify, the men allegedly operated a series of telemarketing “boiler rooms” that pitched loan modification services to distressed homeowners in the wake of the financial collapse in 2008 and operated multiple offices in Irvine, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Garden Grove, and Westminster under a series of company names, including Waypoint Law Group and American Lending Review, from late 2008 to early 2010. SIGTARP said the men would shut down each company name once the business attracted too many consumer complaints at the Better Business Bureau or attracted too much attention from state regulators, such as the California Department of Justice.
According to the indictment, customers paid advance fees to obtain long-term modifications to their mortgage obligations that would lower monthly payments under federal mortgage relief programs (which, the indictment states, the men referred to as “the Obama Act”). The companies’ marketing materials implied that they were affiliated with government programs, but none of the companies were licensed real estate brokers, nor were they affiliated with any government entities, Romero said. The men generally spent consumers’ money on themselves or on payments to sales people and other business expenses, rather than place it in trust accounts as promised, she said.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, while the mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges each could mean as much as 20 years behind bars.
“SIGTARP and our law enforcement partners will aggressively investigate allegations of fraud that exploit TARP’s housing programs, and perpetrators of such crimes will be brought to justice,” Romero said.