Oceana Bal Harbor and Mei Condos looped in $10 million loan fraud

Identity theft charges use Oceana Bal Harbor and Mei Miami Beach condos (Oceana, Mei, iStock, District Court of South Florida)

When Carlos Rafael Castaneda Mendez embarked on a scheme to take out fraudulent mortgages, he set his sights on four high-end residential properties in South Florida that neither he nor his accomplices owned, prosecutors say.

Castaneda is one of seven people convicted this week for their role in what federal authorities say is a $10 million mortgage fraud and identity theft scheme.

From May 2019 to May 2020, the strategy involved impersonating the owners, using fake passports and driver’s licenses, opening bank accounts in the owners’ names and taking out mortgages, the deed says. charge. The co-conspirators used the funds to splurge on payments for a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and watches.

The first stage of the plot: finding luxury homes with absentee owners and no outstanding loans or liens, according to court documents.

The Castaneda ringleader has moved into two condos in Oceana Bal Harbor, a unit in the Mei condo in Miami Beach and a six-bedroom Pinecrest mansion at 9000 Southwest 63rd Court, prosecutors say.

The seven co-conspirators received reduced sentences after pleading guilty to some of the charges and signing plea agreements and affidavits, according to court records.

Castaneda was sentenced to 78 months in prison, Alejandro Boada Oliveros to 46 months, Jonnathan Jesus Gonzalez to 44 months, Yanjeisis Alejandra Pompa Villafane to 28 months, Lilia Rosa Morales Moreno to 30 months and Katherine Hansen Mendoza to seven months. All are from Miami except Villafane, who is from Hialeah.

Isbel Rodriguez Batista, who was sentenced to 30 months, is from Teaneck, New Jersey.

Castaneda’s lawyer said he faced up to 121 months in prison, but his sentence was reduced “due to his acceptance of responsibility and other mitigating factors”.

“I think it was enough punishment, but no more than necessary,” said attorney Sherleen Mendez.

Lawyers for some of the others claimed their clients had minor roles or had been exploited by scammers.

Morales Moreno, a “troubled immigrant”, was manipulated into becoming entangled in the conspiracy by one of the other convicts, attorney Celeste Siblesz-Higgins said.

“He took advantage of her situation, seduced her, and then took advantage of their relationship to get her to commit a crime. Nevertheless, she admitted her involvement before the judge who sentenced her fairly and appropriately,” said Siblesz-Higgins, who did not identify the collaborator she says exploited Moreno, “South Florida is filled with fraudsters who take advantage of the wealthy and the less fortunate alike.”

According to Morales Moreno’s statement, she posed as the owner of one of the Oceana units using a fake Venezuelan passport with her own photo to secure a $1.1 million loan. The passport was created by others involved in the scheme, using the owner’s real name and “Cedula” number, the Venezuelan equivalent of a social security number.

Rodriguez Batista was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to take out a $700,000 loan, his lawyer, 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 liable for any restitution.

“Ms. Rodriguez was the only defendant who did not derive any benefit from the scheme,” Pinera-Vazquez said. “At sentencing, Ms. Rodriguez expressed sincere remorse in court for her actions in this case. “

According to her statement, she impersonated condo owner Mei using a fake Spanish passport with her picture on it. But when she tried to take out the loan in May 2020, an undercover agent posing as a loan processor arrested her after she signed the mortgage documents, her statement said.

As for Gonzalez, he “and his girlfriend fell prey to a more sophisticated individual who used them to commit a serious financial crime,” his attorney, Ana Davide, said via email. Gonzalez “has accepted responsibility and is ready to move on with his life,” she said.

Hansen was attempting to transfer $305,000 to a TD bank in Miami from one of the fraudulently opened bank accounts. She was using a fake Venezuelan driver’s license and passport with her picture on it, but with the name and Cedula number of the real owner of the Pinecrest house, according to her statement. When the cable fell through due to a lack of funds, an off-duty police officer on assignment at the bank branch approached Gonzalez, who was waiting in a white Range Rover outside the bank.

In the car, the officer saw a driver’s license in the cup holder with a photo of Hansen on it and questioned Gonzalez about it, according to Hansen’s statement. Gonzalez said it was his girlfriend, who is inside the bank. The agent returned to the bank and asked Hansen to identify herself, and she showed him the fake documents. She was detained and then confessed her true identity, according to her statement.

Attorneys for Hansen, Oliveros and Villafane did not respond to requests for comment.

South Florida luxury residential real estate often appears in allegedly fraudulent schemes.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil lawsuits against a Miamian who allegedly ran a $66 million payday loan program and misappropriated some of the money to pay for a $1.5 million unit at Epic Residences & Hotel.