The ongoing investigation of the Southern Nevada Mortgage Task Force resulted in guilty pleas from five defendants charged in a scheme that caused $17 million in bank losses, U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower announced Friday.
“These guilty pleas mark a significant step toward unraveling a large and complex mortgage fraud centered in Southern Nevada,” Brower said in a statement. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Eva Mazzarella, a Las Vegas mortgage broker; her husband, Steven Grimm; and four other defendants are awaiting trial on conspiracy and fraud charges alleging they participated in a scheme that involved straw buyers, fraudulent mortgage loan applications and shell companies.
Grimm and Mazzarella led a scheme that included 432 straw buyer transactions involving properties purchased for $107 million, according to prosecutors. The government said 143 of the 227 properties are in default and caused an estimated $17 million in losses at banks.
The U.S. attorney’s office Friday said five defendants pleaded guilty to criminal offenses relating to the scheme.
Daicy Vargas, 23, of Las Vegas pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, or concealing or failing to report a felony. She admitted that she helped Grimm divert proceeds of the fraud and failed to report the fraud as soon as possible.
Pleading guilty to conspiracy were Benjamin Labee, 27, a mortgage loan processor; and his wife, Shauna Labee, a mortgage agent, both of Salt Lake City. The Labees admitted that they conspired with Grimm to recruit straw buyers to pose as property purchasers. The Labees said they put false information in loan applications so that applicants could qualify for loans.
Craig Christians, 39, a Las Vegas real estate broker, pleaded guilty in June to misprision of a felony. Christians admitted that he allowed his company Western Pacific Funding to be used as a conduit for the fraud.
Robert Samora, 41, a Las Vegas mortgage agent, pleaded guilty to money laundering.
The FBI and Internal Revenue Service criminal investigators are leading the investigation. Other federal, state and local agencies are assisting as members of the Southern Nevada Mortgage Task Force.
People with information about mortgage fraud are asked to call the mortgage fraud hot line at 584-5555.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0420.