Month: September 2020

Twelve charged in multi-year mortgage fraud scheme


Twelve defendants in Georgia have been charged in a mortgage fraud scheme allegedly spanning more than four years and resulting in the approval of more than 100 mortgages based on fabricated documents and false information. 

Many of the loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) resulting in claims being paid for mortgages that have gone through loan modification.

“These defendants allegedly used their knowledge of the real estate lending process to manipulate the system for their own benefit,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.  “Mortgage fraudsters threaten the soundness of the real estate market in our community.  We will investigate and charge anyone who takes advantage of our mortgage lending system for their own personal gain.”

“These charges represent the government’s commitment toward combating such alleged criminal activity,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We will steadfastly protect American citizens and the real estate market from predators who drag down our economy by deceit to line their own pockets.”

“What we have here is a group of mortgage industry professionals that have allegedly perpetrated a sophisticated mortgage fraud for profit scheme that was designed to enrich themselves at the expense of a federal housing program,” said Wyatt Achord, Special Agent in Charge, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The efforts that brought forward these charges demonstrate that when law enforcement is made aware of such schemes, we will commit the necessary resources to make sure that fraudsters are brought to justice.”  

“As charged, the defendants engaged in a multiyear scheme to defraud Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG) will investigate and hold accountable those who seek to victimize these Government Sponsored Entities supervised and regulated by FHFA”, said FHFA-OIG Special Agent in-Charge Edwin Bonano.

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: The defendants participated in a scheme in which homebuyers and real estate agents submitted fraudulent loan applications to induce mortgage lenders to fund mortgages. 

Listing agents Eric Hill and Robert Kelske represented a major nationwide homebuilder, and helped more than 100 homebuyers who were looking to buy a home, but who were unqualified to obtain a mortgage, commit fraud.  The agents instructed the homebuyers as to what type of assets they needed to claim to have in the bank, and what type of employment and income they needed to submit in their mortgage applications.

Hill and Kelske then coordinated with multiple document fabricators, including defendants Fawziyyah Connor and Stephanie Hogan, who altered the homebuyers’ bank statements to inflate the their assets and to create bank entries reflecting false direct deposits from an employer selected by the real estate agent.  The document fabricators also generated fake earnings statements that matched the direct deposit entries to make it appear that the homebuyer was employed, and earning income, from a fake employer.  Other participants in the scheme then acted as employment verifiers and responded to phone calls or emails from lenders to falsely verify the homebuyers’ employment.  Defendants Jerod Little, Renee Little, Maurice Lawson, Todd Taylor, Paige McDaniel and Donald Fontenot acted as employment verifiers.  Hill and Kelske coordinated the creation and submission of the false information so that the lies to the lenders were consistent. 

In another aspect of the scheme, real estate agents Anthony Richard and Cephus Chapman falsely claimed to represent homebuyers as their selling agents in order to receive commissions from the home sales. 

In reality, these real estate agents had never even met the homebuyers they claimed to represent. 

To avoid detection, the agents often notified closing attorneys that they would not be available for the home closing, and sent wire instructions for the receipt of their commissions.  When these purported selling agents received their unearned commissions, they kicked back the majority of the commissions to Hill or Kelske for enabling them to be added to the deal, keeping a small share for their role in the scheme.

The following defendants have been charged as part of these conspiracies:

•         Eric Hill, 50, of Tyrone, Georgia (charged by Information)

•         Robert Kelske, 52, of Smyrna, Georgia

•         Fawziyyah Connor, 41, of Tyrone, Georgia

•         Stephanie Hogan, 57, of Norcross, Georgia

•         Jerod Little, 42, of McDonough, Georgia

•         Renee Little, 33, of McDonough, Georgia

•         Maurice Lawson, 36, of Powder Springs, Georgia

•         Todd Taylor, 54, of Fairburn, Georgia

•         Paige McDaniel, 49, of Stockbridge, Georgia

•         Donald Fontenot, 52, of Locust Grove, Georgia (charged by Information)

•         Anthony Richard, 44, of Locust Grove, Georgia

•         Cephus Chapman, 49, of Warner Robins, Georgia

Members of the public are reminded that the indictment and informations only contain charges.  The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Prout is prosecuting the case.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (September 2020)  Twelve charged in multi-year mortgage fraud scheme

Georgia Air Guardsman earns Purple Heart for Heroic Actions in Afghanistan


U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Franklin Wetmore, a radio frequency transmission systems craftsman with the 202d Engineering Installation Squadron, 116th Air Control Wing, Georgia Air National Guard, was awarded the Purple Heart medal on Sep. 13, 2020, during a ceremony at the Museum of Aviation outside Robins Air Force Base.

On Dec. 11, 2019, while Wetmore and his team were awaiting airlift to conduct a quality assurance inspection for the Defense Information Systems Agency, a nearby explosion shook a terminal at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where they were deployed during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Although Wetmore sustained an injury during the explosion, he jumped into action and provided security as the base came under attack. He guided unarmed comrades between bunkers and another terminal, some of whom were civilian contractors and some who were just leaving the shower area. Prior to Army personnel arriving to take charge of security, Wetmore guarded more than 500 personnel who were hunkered down in the terminal. During the course of the attack, he held his position for approximately two hours with shots firing in the distance before medical personnel could be notified and attend to his injuries.

With Christmas around the corner, Wetmore shared how he was thinking about the holidays coming up during the days leading up to the explosion.

“I was thinking about family, food, and looking forward to the helicopter ride to a forward operating base in Afghanistan,” Wetmore said. “I am proud to serve and always wanted to be deployed to the tip of the spear. But this time, the enemy’s spear got me.”

For his actions and ensuing injury, Wetmore earned the Purple Heart, our nation’s oldest military medal. It is a combat decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded or killed by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

“I’m very honored to receive the medal, and I’m proud, but I wish I was never hurt,” Wetmore said. “I love America, and I go to deployed locations knowing I may never see my family again. America and freedom are that important. I am always ready and will always say ‘yes.’”

Wetmore’s actions downrange reflect his consistent service and dedication. Since November 2012, he has served in numerous capacities in the Georgia Air National Guard — primarily in the 202d EIS — inspecting, installing, and trouble-shooting radio and antenna installations for fixed and mobile radio communications. His work is key to establishing and maintaining communication systems and network connectivity in austere environments for U.S. and friendly forces.

“It’s an incredible honor to serve with Sgt. Wetmore,” said Col. Amy Holbeck, commander of the 116th Air Control Wing. “I’m proud of his selfless service and sacrifice on this specific occasion, but also of his continued commitment to serve this great nation.”

Blogs to Follow:

DVIDShub.net (September 2020)  Georgia Air Guardsman earns Purple Heart for actions in Afghanistan; Photo By Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger

Technology Proliferation, Influence Ops May Be as Disruptive as COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has been globally disruptive in nearly every facet of life. But other things may prove as disruptive in the future, said leaders of the military intelligence community.

One advancement that may possibly be as disruptive as COVID-19 is the revolution in information technology that’s available to everybody — not just the U.S. and its allies, Navy Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said during an online forum today with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

“It’s this revolution in remotely-sensed and geo-located data, which is available to everyone,” he said. “It’s available to us, but it’s also available to our competitors. [Also] the revolution in smart machines and artificial intelligence — once again, [it’s a] great opportunity for us, but it’s not only our opportunity. That’s the competition space.”

Another area of concern is something Sharp called “GEOINT assurance.” With the growth of open-source geospatial intelligence coming from multiple sources, it becomes less certain that the information can be trusted, he said.

“How do you have confidence in the ones and zeros that you’re using for making decisions based off of,” he asked.

Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, cited influence operations as the next possible great disruptor. Influence operations, he said, have a very low barrier to entry, enabling just about anybody to engage in them.

“We’ve seen it now in our democratic processes,” Nakasone said. “I think we’re going to see it in our diplomatic processes, we’re going to see it in warfare, and we’re going to see it in sowing civil distrust in different countries.”

Influence operations, he said, are all enabled by the proliferation of inexpensive technology that allows anybody with an agenda to get online.

“The great technology that’s enabling so much of what we’re doing is also that dual-edged sword that malicious cyber actors and others are being able to use to create doubt, or to be able to question authority, or to be able to … to spread messages that are far from true,” he said. “I think influence operations, just in general, will be for us one of the things that we’ll be dealing with not just every two or four years, but this is the competitive space that we’re going to be in as intelligence agencies and as our nation”.

Blogs to Follow:

Defense.gov (September 2020)  Technology Proliferation, Influence Ops May Be as Disruptive as COVID-19

VA Notifies Veterans of Compromised Personal Information


Hackers attempted to reroute medical payments from the VA, exposing information of 46,000 Veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Management today announced a data breach involving the personal information of approximately 46,000 Veterans and actions taken by the department to prevent and mitigate any potential harm to those individuals. 

The Financial Services Center (FSC) determined one of its online applications was accessed by unauthorized users to divert payments to community health care providers for the­ medical treatment of Veterans.

The FSC took the application offline and reported the breach to VA’s Privacy Office.

A preliminary review indicates these unauthorized users gained access to the application to change financial information and divert payments from VA by using social engineering techniques and exploiting authentication protocols.

To prevent any future improper access to and modification of information, system access will not be reenabled until a comprehensive security review is completed by the VA Office of Information Technology. 

To protect these Veterans, the FSC is alerting the affected individuals, including the next-of-kin of those who are deceased, of the potential risk to their personal information.

The department is also offering access to credit monitoring services, at no cost, to those whose social security numbers may have been compromised. 

Veterans whose information was involved are advised to follow the instructions in the letter to protect their data.

There is no action needed from Veterans if they did not receive an alert by mail, as their personal information was not involved in the incident. 

Veterans or Veteran next-of-kin that receive notification their information is potentially at risk from this incident can direct specific questions to the FSC Customer Help Desk to VAFSCVeteransSupport@va.gov or writing to VA FSC Help Desk, Attn: Customer Engagement Center, .P.O. Box 149971, Austin, TX 78714-9971. 

Blogs to Follow:

VA.gov (September 2020)  VA notifies Veterans of compromised personal information

Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Sending Blasphemous Text Messages in 2013


Lawyer Claims “No Evidence” Presented to Support Court’s Decision

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Asif Pervaiz, a 37-year-old Pakistani Christian, has been sentenced to death for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in 2013. According to Pervaiz’s attorney, the death sentence was announced by the court despite there being “no evidence” to implicate his client in the case.

Earlier today, Saif-ul-Malook, the attorney representing Pervaiz in court, tweeted that his client had been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. “Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence,” Malook’s tweet read.

The court’s decision comes almost seven years after the initial blasphemy accusation was made against Pervaiz by a Muslim co-worker in October 2013.

On October 2, 2013, a Muslim named Saeed Ahmeed Khokar accused Pervaiz of sending him blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone. Blasphemy charges under Sections 295-A, 295-B, and 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code were registered against Pervaiz at the Green Town Police Station in Lahore.

When Pervaiz became aware of the charges, he went into hiding. On October 9, after a week of searching for Pervaiz, police arrested several of Pervaiz’s relatives, including two brothers-in-law and his mother, Naseem Akhtar. According to Akhtar, police told her that they would kill Pervaiz when they found him unless she helped them locate her son.

Akhtar led the police to the home of Waseem Anwar, Pervaiz’s brother. There, police beat Waseem until he confessed to knowing where Pervaiz was hidden. On October 10, 2013, Pervaiz was arrested by police in Sahiwal.

“Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence,” Saif-ul-Malook, Pervaiz’s attorney, tweeted.

According to Pervaiz’s family, Pervaiz and Khokar were co-workers at a garment factory named Shami Textile, located in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore. At work, Khokar often pressured Pervaiz to convert to Islam, which Pervaiz refused. Prior to October 2, Pervaiz reportedly lost his mobile phone’s SIM card and did not request the company to deactivate it. According to Pervaiz’s family, Khokar used the lost SIM card to send the blasphemous text messages he used to register the false accusation against Pervaiz.

In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.

Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations has skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%) were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians are highly disproportionate.

Currently, 25 Christian are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, including Asif Pervaiz. These 25 Christians are defendants in 22 blasphemy cases represented at various levels of the judicial process in Pakistan.

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are saddened by the court’s decision to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death under the blasphemy laws. We are especially concerned that the death sentence was made with reportedly no evidence being presented to support the blasphemy allegation against Asif. The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities. Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations.

Blogs to Follow:

Persecution.org (September 2020)  Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Sending Blasphemous Text Messages in 2013