Two Florida men get lighter prison sentences for cooperating in $5.8M Temple Terrace fraud scheme

To entice buyers to purchase the units, the conspirators offered cash payments to buyers, either before or after closing. The mortgage lenders were not made aware of these payments.

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Business Journal
By Frances McMorris

Published May 23, 2018

Two men at a Tampa-based mortgage broker were hit with federal prison time for their roles in a $5.8 million fraud scheme involving the sale of condo units in Temple Terrace, but one of them in particular appears to be ready to testify against a Miami developer alleged to be part of the scheme.

Carlos Escarria, 61, of Largo was given an 18-month sentence by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew. The judge also sentenced Alejandro Tobon, the 35-year-old manager of Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, to 37 months in prison.

Both men were ordered to pay restitution. Escarria was ordered to pay more than $1.28 million while Tobon was ordered to pay more than $5.8 million.

But Tobon's sentencing memorandum asking for a lighter sentence noted his cooperation with the federal probe into the scheme. The memo said that Tobon may yet be testifying in the criminal case against a recently indicted Miami developer in the alleged scheme.

The goal of the fraud was to sell condominium units at The Preserve at Temple Terrace, a 392-unit condominium complex in the Tampa Bay area, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida. The Preserve was in the process of converting from apartment rentals into the condo complex.

To entice buyers to purchase the units, Tobon, Escarria and others conspired to offer cash payments to buyers, either before or after closing. The mortgage lenders were not made aware of these payments. The conspirators used several entities to conceal from the mortgage lenders the cash payments to buyers.

The conspirators made false statements on loan documents, such as purchase and sale agreements and loan applications, and on HUD-1 settlement statements, to induce mortgage lenders to approve loans for otherwise unqualified borrowers, according to court documents.

Tobon, the Transcontinental Lending Group manager, was also the president of Tobon Marketing and Consultant. His role in the conspiracy included submitting false and fraudulent loan applications to financial institutions to induce them to provide funding for buyers of Preserve units. He also marketed units to buyers with undisclosed incentives and transferred funds he received from the developer through Tobon Marketing and Consultant to borrowers’ bank accounts. The money was then used to provide the down payment and cash to close requirements.

Escarria worked as a loan officer at Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa. He signed false and fraudulent loan applications to induce financial institutions into providing funding for buyers to purchase condo units. The false representations submitted to and relied upon by mortgage lenders included occupancy, income, source of funds, and assets.

The scheme ran from as early as October 2007 through May 2008, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Both men pleaded guilty on June 9, 2017 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. The mortgage lenders’ total losses resulting from Tobon’s and Escarria’s roles is approximately $5.8 million.

Both men could have faced substantially more prison time but both cooperated with the federal probe.

Tobon, in his sentencing memorandum, noted that as soon as he was notified that he was a target of investigation in December 2016, he hired a lawyer and “confessed his sins and immediately cooperated with the government.” Tobon’s court papers noted that he has been cooperating with federal prosecutors for the past 15 months. They added that "the government still needs him. Mordechai Boaziz and Jonathan Marmol, two very wealthy and very intelligent co-conspirators who were perched high above the branch of the tree wherein [Tobon] once toiled, are pending trial.”

Boaziz, a Miami resident and real estate developer, and Marmol were indicted earlier this month on charges of federal bank fraud involving the Temple Terrace condo conversion project. The trial is on the court calendar for November. Both men have said they plan to fight the charges.

“This case involves activities which took place over a decade ago," Boaziz’s defense lawyer John Fitzgibbons said. "Mr. Boaziz strongly disputes the allegations contains in the indictment and intends to vigorously assert his innocence at trial. We believe that after a jury hears all the facts they will agree that Mr. Boaziz has done nothing wrong."

Marmol, a mortgage broker, was charged with making false statements on loan applications and conspiracy to defraud the United States. His defense lawyer, Nicholas G. Matassini, noted that Tobon will remain out of custody, on bond pending the future federal jury trial of his client, Marmol, and Boaziz.