Va. Man Pleads Guilty in Mortgage Fraud Case

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Annandale man pleaded guilty yesterday to helping orchestrate a mortgage fraud scheme that used "straw buyers" to sell property across Northern Virginia, defrauding banks and commercial lenders of more than $2.5 million, prosecutors said.

Gohar J. Mirza, 29, said in court documents that he and several co-conspirators sold the properties in Annandale, Woodbridge and elsewhere to the buyers, who used fraudulent loan documents to obtain financing. The buyers then defaulted on the mortgages, which caused the losses to financial institutions, prosecutors said.

Mirza is the former owner and operator of E-Star Lending, and his guilty plea represents the third recent mortgage fraud conviction or sentencing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. It comes as investigators continue to examine an upsurge in mortgage fraud nationwide triggered by the decline in the housing market.

With the FBI ramping up investigations locally through a mortgage fraud task force begun late last year in its Washington field office, officials said there is heightened attention to the issue. "We have seen many such cases recently, and we fully expect to see many more," Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, said yesterday.

Mirza, who pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud, faces as much as 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 19. He has agreed to pay full restitution to victims of his fraud. Court documents said they include Citimortgage, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Lending Tree's Home Loan Center.

The government believes the losses from the E-Star Lending scheme were between $2.5 million and $7 million, court documents said, but a news release announcing Mirza's plea said only that they were "in excess of" $2.5 million. Thomas Berger, an attorney for Mirza, said he will argue that the loss is at the low end of that range, which could affect Mirza's sentence.

Court documents said the straw buyers, through fraudulently obtained loans, would purchase properties from Mirza or his associates. Frequently, the documents said, Mirza sold the property at an inflated price -- sometimes $100,000 more than he paid for it -- within a month or two of purchasing it. The straw buyer would then default, and the banks would lose out because the properties had been purchased with 100 percent financing and for more money than they were worth.

The properties purchased by the straw buyers included 12728 Dulcinea Pl. in Woodbridge, 3918 Gallows Rd. in Annandale and 6106 Backlick Rd. in Springfield, court documents said.

Walter F. Contreras, who prosecutors say was a loan officer for E-Star Lending, has also been charged in the case and is scheduled for trial Nov. 19. Prosecutors say he recruited straw buyers to the scheme. An attorney for Contreras did not return a phone call yesterday.

In a separate scheme, David A. Freelander, 50, of Norfolk was sentenced Friday in federal court in Alexandria to four years in prison and ordered to pay $5.4 million in restitution. Prosecutors said Freelander, a mortgage broker, fraudulently obtained a $3.9 million mortgage loan from Lehman Brothers Bank FSB so that a client could buy a home in Great Falls.

That followed the sentencing Sept. 5 of John A. Tsiaoushis, former owner of a group of Washington area nightclubs and restaurants. He was sentenced to almost six years in prison for a mortgage fraud scheme in which he used false documents to repeatedly sell or refinance two houses in Vienna and the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County, pocketing more than $3.8 million.

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