Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Two Individuals In $17 Million Real Estate Scam
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Patricia Tarasca, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Region for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (“FDIC-OIG”), announced the unsealing today of an indictment charging ISSAK ALMALEH, a/k/a “Issak Izrael,” and ANTOANETA IOTOVA with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to the FDIC, in connection with a wide-ranging scheme to falsely claim ownership of more than $17 million worth of property in New York and Florida. As alleged, ALMALEH and IOTOVA used forged documents to claim ownership of real estate in New York and Florida, and then used those real estate documents to victimize individuals and tenants. ALMALEH and IOTOVA were arrested today in Hollywood, Florida, and will be presented later today in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The case is assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Issak Almaleh and Antoaneta Iotova allegedly forged documents to falsely claim ownership over $17 million of property in New York and Florida. As alleged, the defendants’ brazen scheme led to at least one victim being wrongfully evicted from the victim’s own home and others signing leases and paying deposits to the defendants for homes the defendants did not actually own. Thanks to the work of the FDIC Office of Inspector General, the defendants’ alleged frauds have now been foreclosed.”
FDIC Special Agent-in-Charge Patricia Tarasca said: “The FDIC Office of Inspector General is committed to investigating allegations of fraudulent activity that threatens to harm FDIC-insured financial institutions. Our office worked vigorously to uncover the details of this alleged real estate foreclosure scam to ensure integrity in the banking industry and hold guilty parties accountable.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
The Scheme to Defraud Banks
From at least 2012, ALMALEH and IOTOVA have filed fraudulent and forged property deeds purporting to transfer ownership of more than 40 real properties located in New York City and the greater Miami, Florida, area, with a combined estimated market value in excess of $17 million, to entities controlled by ALMALEH and IOTOVA, specifically, New York Sport Foundation, New York Mortgage Corporation, and Women in International Relations, Inc.
ALMALEH and IOTOVA identified properties that had been subject to foreclosure, and were owned by financial institutions insured by the FDIC. ALMALEH and IOTOVA then filed fraudulent and forged warranty deeds that supposedly reflected the transfer of these properties from the financial institutions to entities controlled by ALMALEH and IOTOVA for a nominal sum. ALMALEH, who was a commissioned notary, would notarize the documents as genuinely signed by representatives of the financial institutions. IOTOVA would sign the documents on behalf of the entities controlled by the defendants.
In furtherance of their scheme, in 2015, ALMALEH and IOTOVA also submitted a false application for FDIC insurance and certification, seeking to have the FDIC certification of an FDIC-insured bank (“Bank-1”) transferred to their control.
The Scheme to Defraud Individuals
After ALMALEH and IOTOVA filed deeds purporting to transfer ownership of the properties, ALMALEH and IOTOVA used the deeds to victimize other individuals. On at least one occasion, in 2015, ALMALEH and IOTOVA evicted a bona fide purchaser (“Victim-1”) from a property in Hollywood, Florida (“Property-1”), that had been falsely claimed by ALMALEH and IOTOVA. Using a fraudulent deed indicating that Victim-1’s property belonged to New York Mortgage Corporation, ALMALEH, using the name “Issak Izrael,” and IOTOVA obtained the assistance of the local police in temporarily evicting Victim-1 from Victim-1’s residence. ALMALEH and IOTOVA proceeded to change the locks to the doors on Property-1, until an emergency court hearing permitted Victim-1 to remain in residence at Property-1.
On another occasion, in 2016, ALMALEH and IOTOVA used documents falsely claiming ownership of a property in Hallandale Beach, Florida (“Property-2”), in order to defraud consumers into falsely entering into lease agreements for Property-2. Two victims (“Victim-2” and “Victim-3”) separately responded to an online advertisement indicating that the units in Property-2 were available for rent. Victim-2 and Victim-3 met with IOTOVA and entered into lease agreements for the units in Property-2. The lease agreements were signed by ALMALEH. In addition to signing a lease agreement, Victim-2 provided IOTOVA with $2,000 in cash, and Victim-3 provided IOTOVA with $900 in cash. A few days later, however, the locks on the doors at Property-2 were changed, and Victim-2 and Victim-3 were notified by the financial institution that was the true owner of Property-2 (“Bank-2”) that their lease agreements were invalid and that they would have to vacate Property-2.
ALMALEH, 63, and IOTOVA, 51, of Hollywood, Florida, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, one count of bank fraud, and one count of making false statements to the FDIC, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FDIC Office of Inspector General. Mr. Bharara also thanked the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the Hollywood, Florida, Police Department, the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, and the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Bharara noted that the investigation remains ongoing.
If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact the Victim/Witness Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900. For additional information, go to http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/nys/victimwitness.html.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys David W. Denton Jr. and Robert Sobelman are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment and the description of the Indictment set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.