Lost Wallet's ID Cards Spawned Mortgage Fraud

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It was a little baffling when Jose F. Lara got a check in the mail for almost $2,800 from a bank in Arlington County in December. When the bank told him that it was the overpayment on his second mortgage, things got really baffling.

He didn't have a second mortgage.

Turned out it all tracked back to that day last year when Lara's wallet was stolen. Elizabeth Cabrera-Rivera found it and used Lara's identification to buy . . . a house.

A $419,000 townhouse in Springfield. With no money down.

A townhouse she and her family moved into, refinanced and then quickly fled not long after Lara turned up at the bank in December. Some of Cabrera-Rivera's Christmas decorations are still on the tree out front, and the place remains empty.

It's not as if identity theft is a new concept. Billions of dollars' worth of electronic devices, clothes, maybe even cars are fraudulently purchased each year. But a house?

"They don't really see themselves as doing something wrong as long as they pay the bill," said Mari J. Frank, a California lawyer, identity fraud victim and author of numerous books and articles on the subject. And Cabrera-Rivera had, in fact, been making the mortgage payments.

Yesterday, Cabrera-Rivera, 40, pleaded guilty in Arlington County Circuit Court to identity fraud, credit card theft, conspiracy and obtaining a loan under false pretenses. She was taken into custody from the courtroom after weeping through much of the brief hearing. She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9, when she faces a minimum two-year prison sentence on the fraud charge and up to 20 years on the theft charge. Arlington Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick can reduce or suspend those terms.

Cabrera-Rivera did not make a statement in court -- other than to blurt out, "I'm guilty of all of this" -- but her attorney, Alberto Salvado, said the scam was "a result of not only her unclean hands, but also the mortgage brokers from the beginning, who allowed this loan to go through without checking the income taxes of Jose Lara." Salvado said it was difficult for Cabrera-Rivera to buy a house, and so with her brother allegedly posing as Lara, she obtained financing from predatory lenders.

"She didn't buy a car and drive away," Salvado said. "She bought a house and moved in."

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Lisa A. Wilson said Cabrera-Rivera had her brother, Juan Carlos Cabrera-Rivera, pose as Lara on several occasions, using Lara's driver's license, Social Security card and health insurance card. The brother has since left the country, Salvado said.

Lara, a 42-year-old married father of three, lives in Winchester, Va., and works as a printer. He did not actually lose any money in the scam because Cabrera-Rivera made her payments and because she had "Lara" deed the house over to her for free, "for natural love and affection and as a gift," according to the gift deed filed in Fairfax County about five weeks after the September 2006 purchase.

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