- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Mundane complaints about noise and parking problems in a Washington suburb led authorities to uncover a sweeping mortgage fraud scheme involving as many as 200 properties valued at more than $100 million, officials announced Thursday.

Twenty Northern Virginia residents were arrested, and authorities have warrants for four other people in what they said was just the first phase of the case, related to 35 houses. Most of those arrested are facing federal charges including wire and mail fraud. Eight of the 20 were arrested on state charges of using false statements to obtain property or credit.

Fairfax County police and federal officials said real estate agents and mortgage brokers used straw buyers with good credit ratings and low income to fraudulently obtain loans they would never have qualified for. Properties were sold and resold within the alleged ring.

In some cases, small homes were torn down and mansions put up in their place. Many of the houses were later used as illegal boarding houses, with the rent used to pay off the mortgage. Others were allowed to slide into foreclosure.

“Profits came primarily from real estate commissions, ever-increasing sales prices and rents,” Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer said at a news conference.

He said it was the largest mortgage fraud case the county had seen.

According to the federal indictment, real estate agents Ruben Rojas, 30, and his sister-in-law, Litcia Linares, 32, organized the fraudulent transactions, along with Mr. Rojas’ sister, 28-year-old Lourdes Rojas Almanza, a loan officer, and his brother, Jaime Rojas. They did not have lawyers as of Thursday afternoon.

The other people charged in the scheme were straw buyers, many of whom bought multiple properties.

The investigation began about two years ago after county supervisors brought complaints about noise and traffic resulting from overcrowded houses to the attention of police. Investigators looking into code violations soon uncovered suspicious transactions.

The appearance of suspected illegal boarding houses for immigrant workers in established Fairfax neighborhoods is a sore point for many longtime residents.

Chief Rohrer thanked local elected leaders, who, he said, “patiently allowed us to conduct a comprehensive investigation although they continued to bear the brunt of frustration and complaints.”

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