South Florida Mortgage Fraud Prosecution by Ralph Behr: Part 8

The next installment of Attorney Behr’s mortgage fraud prosecutions series:

18 U.S.C. §1956 Laundering of monetary instruments


18 U.S.C. §1957 Engaging in monetary transactions in property

derived from specified unlawful activity
Both statutes essentially have the same purpose of preventing persons from legitimizing proceeds obtained illegally although there are differences. 18 U.S.C. § 1956, is concerned with any financial transaction concerning proceeds of a “specified unlawful activity”73 whenever action is focused to keep the criminal activity from being discovered, or to hide the source or current possessor of the funds, or to avoid the mandatory disclosures under the Bank Secrecy Act under Title 31 U.S.C.74 Conversely, provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1957 is applicable if a person “…knowingly engages or attempts to engage in a monetary transaction in criminally derived property of a value greater than $10,000 and is derived from specified unlawful activity…”75
In United States v. Moncrief, 133 Fed.Appx. 924 (5th Cir. 2004), both of these statutes were instituted in a case which the government claimed to be “…the largest mortgage-loan-fraud operation ever to be prosecuted.”76 The case involved Meis Enterprises which was owned and operated by the Meis family.77 Mei Enterprises was a conglomeration of several businesses operated by members of the Mei family.78 Mei Enterprises operated a construction company and several real estate companies.79 Although the assortment of companies had differing bank accounts and officers in charge, Mei Enterprises “…operated out of one common office.”80
The alleged end result of the mortgage fraud scheme was to collect “…large amounts of cash by inducing mortgage lenders to provide the Meis with loans that were $50,000 to $80,000…” over what “…it cost the Meis to purchase the real estate that served as the collateral for the loan.”81 In order to obtain the loans, “…the Meis orchestrated sham real estate transactions in which the Meis would appear to sell a particular property, which…” would overlap “…with actual sales in which the Meis would purchase, for the first time, the very same property.”82 Purportedly, the Meis first would find a property for sale and “…acting through one of their realty companies such as Hathaway Properties, would contract to purchase the property from its owner.”83
Third parties or straw buyer would serve as a temporary purchaser usually Frank Mei Sr. to complete “…a parallel sham transaction that would be used to obtain an inflated loan.”84 Mortgage brokers in one of the Mei Enterprises would falsify employment and income information on loan application to lenders.85 Eventually, Moncrief, a residential real estate appraiser became involved in the Mei scheme.86 Allegedly, Moncrief used the Mei’s formula for over inflating the value of selected properties and “…was involved in more straw buyer transactions than any other appraiser that the Meis use…”87 which exposed him to the money laundering violations.88
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