Tag: Georgia

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

U.S. Marshals Find 39 Missing Children in Georgia During ‘Operation Not Forgotten’


Investigators charge individuals for sex offender violations, other related charges

The U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, in conjunction with the agency’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Georgia state and local agencies, led a two-week operation in August in Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, to rescue endangered missing children.

“Operation Not Forgotten” resulted in the rescue of 26 children, the safe location of 13 children and the arrest of nine criminal associates. Additionally, investigators cleared 26 arrest warrants and filed additional charges for alleged crimes related to sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession, and custodial interference. The 26 warrants cleared included 19 arrest warrants for a total of nine individuals arrested, some of whom had multiple warrants.

“The U.S. Marshals Service is fully committed to assisting federal, state, and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children, in addition to their primary fugitive apprehension mission,” said Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington. “The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you.”

These missing children were considered to be some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area, based on indications of high-risk factors such as victimization of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and medical or mental health conditions. Other children were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure their well-being. USMS investigators were able to confirm each child’s location in person and assure their safety and welfare.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 enhanced the U.S. Marshals’ authority to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement with the recovery of missing, endangered or abducted children,
regardless of whether a fugitive or sex offender was involved. The Marshals established a Missing Child Unit to oversee and manage the implementation of its enhanced authority under the act.

In 2019, the USMS helped recover 295 missing children based on requests for assistance from law enforcement and has contributed to the recovery of a missing child in 75 percent of cases received. Additionally, of the missing children recovered, 66 percent were recovered within seven days of the USMS assisting with the case. Since its partnership with NCMEC began in 2005, the agency has recovered more than 1,800 missing children.

“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child,” said Darby Kirby, Chief of the Missing Child Unit. “It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need.”

This initiative was the culmination of several months of planning and coordination between the USMS, NCMEC, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Office of the Attorney General, Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

B-roll of “Operation Not Forgotten” can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/d0dmhirspqtht5x/Operation%20Not%20Forgotten%20B-roll.mp4?dl=0

Photos of Operation Not Forgotten (open in Google Chrome):
https://www.flickr.com/gp/usmarshals/F3210D

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at http://www.usmarshals.gov.

Blogs to Follow:

USMarshals.gov (August 2020) U.S. Marshals Find 39 Missing Children in Georgia During ‘Operation Not Forgotten’

“Operation The Real McCoy” Yields 47 Arrests for Gang & Drugs Charges


As a result of a 9-month investigation known as “Operation The Real McCoy,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (CMANS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) served 47 arrest warrants for multiple charges including gang and drug related offenses.

In September 2019, Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (CMANS) agents began an investigation into a supply chain of methamphetamine into Cherokee County.  The initial investigations led CMANS agents to DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and members of the Ghostface Gangsters.

Based on the initial investigation, CMANS, the GBI Gang Task Force, and HSI conducted an intensive investigation into the drug trafficking and distribution organization involving Brannon McCoy, age 26, Michael  Hazelwood, age 45, and Tricia Setser, age 38, who are traffickers of methamphetamine operating within numerous counties in Georgia including Sumter, Effingham, Fulton, Clayton, DeKalb, Cobb, Cherokee, Gilmer, and Pickens. 

The investigation revealed a network involving members of the Ghostface Gangsters, the Gangster Disciples, and the Sureños.

“Operation The Real McCoy” Yields 47 Arrests for Gang & Drugs Charges

The following were charged with Violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in Pickens County as part of “Operation The Real McCoy”:

  1. Tanner Burnell, 31, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  2. Donnie Chastain, 47, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  3. Cindy McCoy-Wilson, 49, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  4. Christopher Morris, 34, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  5. Allyson Moyer, 41, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  6. Jesse Rodriguez, 22, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  7. David Skinner, 46, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  8. Amanda Vliek, 37, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  9. Brandon Sanchez Laney, 32, also charged with Violation of Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Act, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  10. Tyler Morris, 28, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  11. Carl Welchel, 49, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  12. Tricia Setser, 38, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  13. Casey Plumb, 31, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  14. Michael Hazelwood, 45, currently in custody at Cherokee County Jail
  15. Josh Phillips, 23, currently in custody at the Gwinnett County Jail
  16. Josh David Collins, 37, currently in custody of GDC
  17. William Jamie Fields, 27, currently in custody of GDC
  18. Brannon Chase McCoy, 26, currently in custody of GDC
  19. Terrell Jamar Owens, 38, currently in custody of GDC
  20. Bryan Thomas Pitt, 36, currently in custody of GDC
  21. Kevin Rodriguez, 24, currently in custody of GDC
  22. Joseph Seaborn III, 47, currently in custody of GDC
  23. Dewane Cook, 46, currently in custody in Monroe County, TN
  24. Orvelin Garcia Penaloza, 25, currently a fugitive from justice
  25. Evan Dannny Taylor Yancey, currently a fugitive from justice
  26. Dillon Thompson, 40, currently a fugitive from justice
  27. Savannah Newton, 22, currently a fugitive from justice
  28. Tracey Shirley, 47, currently a fugitive from justice
  29. Brittany Owen, 41, also charged with Violation of Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Act, currently a fugitive from justice
  30. Dennis Debord, 39, currently a fugitive from justice
  31. Jessica Darby, 33, currently a fugitive from justice
  32. Derick Barker, 35, currently a fugitive from justice
  33. Justin Barker, 31, currently a fugitive from justice
  34. Mindy Skelton, 38, currently a fugitive from justice

These individuals conspired with one or more persons to participate, directly and indirectly, in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, and did commit at least one overt act and conspired to commit a felony with Brannon McCoy. 

Mr. McCoy acted as a broker from within the State Prison Camp in Sumter County, Georgia, for the distribution of methamphetamine from members of Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico to the streets of North Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The following individuals were arrested on June 24, 2020:

  1. Erik Noe Fuentes Escobar, 26, charged in Barrow County, GA with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
  2. Kevin Vega-Santana, 18, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  3. Artemio Maldonado Santana, 28, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  4. Elvis Maldonado-Santana, 21, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  5. Buford Smith, 68, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in Pickens County, GA.
  6. Leah Thompson, 31, charged with possession of methamphetamine in Pickens County, GA.
  7. Joseph Arp, 50, charged with possession of methamphetamine in Pickens County, GA.
  8. Wendy Kirby, 44, charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  9. Tracy Kirby, 42, charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  10. William Ryder, 45 charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  11. Ashley Foster, 31, charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of a Schedule IV substance in Pickens County, GA.
  12. Christopher Mountain 47, charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of a Schedule IV substance in Pickens County, GA.
  13. Marjorie Brown, 61, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in Pickens County, GA.

Agents seized over 136 kilograms of methamphetamine valued at $1.76 million and approximately $100,000.

Agencies involved in the investigation were the CMANS, the GBI Gang Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Pickens Sheriff’s Office, Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Department of Corrections, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Barrow Sheriff’s Office, the Gordon County Drug Task Force, Gwinnett Gang Task Force and Special Investigation Section, DeKalb District Attorney’s Office, the Cobb PD and District Attorney’s Office, the Clayton SO and District Attorney’s Office, the Apex Unit from Atlanta PD, the West Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office.

The GBI Gang Task Force is made up of GBI Agents, task force agents from the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, the Atlanta Police Department, the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force and the United States Department of Homeland Security/Homeland Security Investigations.

The Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad is a joint task force working in Cherokee County and Pickens County to investigate drug related violations. Participating agencies include the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, the Canton Police Department, the Woodstock Police Department, the Holly Springs Police Department, the Ball Ground Police Department, the Cherokee County Marshal’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office for the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, the District Attorney’s Office for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit and the Georgia State Patrol. Citizens may call in tips anonymously to (770) 345-7920 or may speak to an agent by calling (678) 493-7625.

Blogs to Follow:

GBI.Georgia.gov (June 2020) “Operation The Real McCoy” Yields 47 Arrests for Gang & Drugs Charges

Georgia AG Requests DOJ to Conduct Investigation into Handling of Ahmaud Arbery Case


On Sunday, Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr has formally requested the U.S. Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Bobby Christine, to conduct an investigation into the handling of the Ahmaud Arbery case. 

This case involves the deadly shooting Mr. Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia on February 23, 2020 within the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. At the time of Mr. Arbery’s death and up until May 7, 2020, no arrests were made in the case. 

“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”

The request to the U.S. Department of Justice includes, but is not limited to, investigation of the communications and discussions by and between the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and the Office of the District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit related to this case.

On February 27, 2020, the Office of the Attorney General received a request from the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit to appoint another prosecutor for this case. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-18-5, this Office appointed the District Attorney for the Waycross Judicial Circuit to prosecute the case on that same date.

At the time of the request by the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney and acceptance by the Waycross Circuit District Attorney, neither revealed to the Office of the Attorney General that the Waycross Circuit District Attorney had already taken a role in the case in reviewing evidence and advising the Glynn County Police Department regarding whether to make arrests in the case.  

On April 7, 2020, the Office of the Attorney General received a request from the Office of the District Attorney for the Waycross Judicial Circuit to appoint another prosecutor for this case.

In that request, the Waycross Circuit District Attorney again did not inform the Office of the Attorney General of his prior involvement in the case before his appointment and specifically described to the Office of the Attorney General the actions that he took “upon taking the case.”

In the request of April 7, 2020, the Waycross Circuit District Attorney indicated that he and the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney learned as of “about 3-4 weeks ago,” that his son who is employed as a prosecutor in the Office of the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney had handled a prior prosecution of Mr. Arbery and that one of the defendants in this case had also served as an investigator on the same prosecution.

The request of April 7, 2020 did not provide any reason for the delay in contacting the Office of the Attorney General to request appointment of a new prosecutor since the discovery of those facts. 

Nor did the request of April 7, 2020, reveal that, on April 2, 2020, the Waycross Circuit District Attorney had provided the Glynn County Police Department with a written opinion that no arrests should be made in the case. In that letter, the Waycross District Attorney also confirmed “an initial opinion the day after the shooting” which would have been February 24, 2020.

At that time, he had not requested, nor was he appointed by the Office of the Attorney General to this case.

On April 13, 2020, the Office of the Attorney General appointed the District Attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit to this case.

On May 5, 2020, the Atlantic Circuit District Attorney requested that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) conduct an investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

The GBI commenced its investigation on May 6, 2020 and made two arrests on May 7, 2020.

The Office of the Attorney General will provide its entire file regarding the appointment process for the prosecutors in this case and provide any assistance requested by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Law.georgia.gov (May 2020) Carr Requests DOJ to Conduct Investigation into Handling of Ahmaud Arbery Case