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Press Release | NO. 2003-045

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Press Release # 045
Thursday, May 8, 2003

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown, And Acting State Bank Superintendent Barbara Kent Announce 11 Arrests In Takedown Of Real Estate Fraud Ring

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown, and Acting New York State Bank Superintendent Barbara Kent today announced the arrest of 11 people in connection with a real estate fraud organization that conned more than $1 million from mortgage companies through phony real estate closings. The five leaders of the crime ring have been charged with enterprise
corruption, conspiracy, and grand larceny, and face up to 25 years in prison.

The arrests mark the culmination of Operation Un-Real Estate, a two-year investigation that uncovered a ring of real estate professionals - - including attorneys, brokers and title closers - - who defrauded two mortgage companies by staging phony closings using impersonators, forged documents, and fake bank accounts. Through the fraudulent purchase of six single-family homes in Jamaica and Ozone Park, Queens, the criminals stole $1,003,950. Because of these crimes, one mortgage company - - Equicredit Corporation of Jacksonville, Florida - - went bankrupt last year.

The five leaders are real estate attorneys Gail Cromer, 43; Daniel Levine, 49; and Sonya Barksdale, 36; unlicenced real estate broker Denise Smith, 49; and title closer Rasheed Olayinka, 45. The 6 others, who are listed below, participated as impersonators of buyers or sellers.

The operatives would choose a house, and then create false identification, bank records and other documents so that they could impersonate the owner. Then they contacted a mortgage company and set up a closing date. At the closing, everyone except the bank's representative was in on the scam. Phony buyers and sellers acted their parts, and when the closing was over the criminals divided up the bank's check for the purchase of the home - - ranging between $148,000 and $211,500. After failing to receive mortgage payments, the bank would try to foreclose on the house. The real owners, who had no idea their homes were being used in the scam, faced the possibility that their credit ratings would be destroyed over a mortgage
they didn't know existed.

Equicredit was the victim of four of the six closings because Sonya Barksdale, one of the
leaders of the crime ring, served as Equicredit's legal representative at several closings. Interstate Resource Corporation of Newburgh, New York, was the victim of the other two scams.

Operation Un-Real Estate, which began in June 2001, is an offshoot of a previous Auto Crime Division identity-fraud investigation that led to 22 arrests in2000 and 2001. During that investigation, detectives arrested two men in a car that they had bought using false identities. Police found a
briefcase in the car that contained files detailing real estate-related crimes, and Operation Un-Real Estate was launched.

Commissioner Kelly said: "These individuals not only stole the identities of homeowners and then impersonated them at staged closings, they also conned mortgage companies out of more than $1 million. Identity theft is a serious crime that leaves victims open to heavy losses and exposes honest people to ruined credit ratings. I want to commend the members of the Auto Crime Division, whose outstanding work made this case a success. I also want to thank the other agencies that united their efforts to help us capture these criminals."

District Attorney Brown said: "The defendants are accused of turning real estate closings into game of charades in which nothing was authentic except the money that changed hands. They are alleged to have defrauded two mortgage companies of over $1 million dollars by staging sham real estate closings using impersonators paid up to $500 to pose as purchasers and home owners, filing forged and falsified documents, including property deeds and driver's licenses and fraudulently opening bank accounts in order to misrepresent the true ownership of residential properties in Queens. The actual owners of the properties were unaware that their homes were being sold out from under them or that their identities had been stolen. In addition, others were also victimized when their identities were used to obtain the fraudulent mortgages."

Acting Bank Superintendent Kent said: "I am very proud of the work done by the staff of our Criminal Investigations Bureau. The Banking Department remains committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers are protected against identity theft, mortgage and bank fraud and today's announcement sends a clear message to the industry, if you violate the law you will be prosecuted. We vow to continue this level of cooperation with law enforcement and other agencies to ensure that the victims of this crime see resolution and restitution as soon as possible."

In addition to the five leaders of the crime ring listed above, the following were arrested yesterday: Jimmi Green, 32; Demarco Stanley, 43; Eugenia Struman, 52; Barbara Harley, 59; Steven Faucette, 41; and Demetrius McCrimmon, 32. Police are also planning to arrest Lisa McCrimmon, 33; Rozlyn Payne, 42; Michael Swarez, 28; Kim Newton, 41; and Rochelle Faucette, 49.

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