Former Newspaper Publisher and Associates Indicted for $10 Million Florida Wire Fraud Scheme

February 2, 2017 by Alexa P. Stephenson, Esq.

On January 5, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) announced that wire fraud charges were levied in Florida federal court against four individuals for their alleged participation in a $10 million mortgage fraud scam against Washington Mutual Bank.

Marco Laureti, owner of Laureti Publishing Co. and also part-time mortgage broker, was charged with defrauding Washington Mutual by using straw buyers and fake loan documents to illegally acquire loans for the purchase of high-end condos that he subsequently diverted for personal use. In addition to Laureti, charges have also been filed against his associate Felix Mostelac, title business owner Michelle Cabrera, and a Florida-based investment group CEO, Pedro Melian.

The Defendants executed the scheme by selecting several Broward and Miami-Dade residential properties to buy, utilizing straw buyers on the loan applications, and then fabricating those applications and HUD-1 settlement forms to mislead Washington Mutual into providing mortgages on the properties.

The USAO said that after the loans had been approved, Laureti ordered Cabrera to divert a portion of the funds to pay the closing costs, and to divert additional capital from the funded loans to multiple businesses owned by Laureti and Mostelac.

The USAO alleges that Laureti and Mostelac used an identical scheme to finance the purchase of their multimillion-dollar residences in Miami Beach. Authorities stated that the alleged fraudulent activity took place between June 2007 and January 2009. Washington Mutual Bank collapsed during the economic crisis and was seized by the Office of Thrift Supervision and placed into receivership. After being stripped of its banking license by the FDIC, the banking subsidiary was eventually sold off to JP Morgan Chase in 2009.

The criminal complaint filed by the USAO indicates that Cabrera is the manager and registered broker of Florida Elite Title & Escrow LLC, and operated as the title agent who disbursed the illegally-acquired funds for residential developments in South Florida. The documents further reveal that Melian acted as a straw buyer responsible for applying for and acquiring fraudulent mortgage funds from Washington Mutual Bank.

The USAO stated that Laureti, a former newspaper publisher as well as a licensed real estate sales associate and mortgage broker, and Mostelac, the head of several companies, were long-time business associates.

The criminal charges against Laureti and Mostelac were filed separately from the complaint implicating Cabrera and Melian. All four individuals have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution. However, Laureti and Mostelac also received multiple counts of wire fraud affecting a financial institution, which could significantly enhance their sentencing.

The USAO stated that Defendants, if convicted, could receive up to thirty years in federal prison for each count.