James and Wendy Ober charged with massive, $10 million mortgage fraud

Categories: Crime
Hennepin County Attorney's Office
The Obers allegedly used these and other fake business identities written on the back of a cell phone.
Hennepin County prosecutors filed racketeering charges Tuesday against husband and wife real estate team James and Wendy Ober of Hudson, Wis., and two Minnesota men, who they say ran a sophisticated mortgage fraud scheme involving at least 65 properties in the Twin Cities that  netted at least $10 million in ill-gotten gains.

And that may account for only half of the scheme, authorities say.
The Obers, along with Raul Pliego of Farmington, and Alejandro Sanchez of Bloomington,  "engaged in a racketeering scheme through a pattern of criminal activity that included theft by swindle and concealing criminal proceeds to unlawfully obtain millions of dollars in mortgage loan proceeds," according to the charges.

The Obers and their alleged co-conspirators face charges worth a maximum penalty of a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison.

The fake business phone and numbers.
The charges announced at a Wednesday morning press conference by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman might only tell less than half the alleged fraudsters' story: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that the Obers' mortgage brokerage "originated approximately $23 million" in loans, according to the complaint. If proved true, the HUD estimated would add 71 more Minnesota properties and $13 million in fraudulent loans to the case.

From June 2009 through August 2010, the Obers, through their St. Paul-based company Mortgage Planners, Inc., preyed on the depressed housing market to buy foreclosed homes at reduced prices. The Obers allegedly used "straw buyers," who pretended to purchase a home but were in fact colluding with the Obers, to obtain millions of dollars in loans backed by the Federal Housing Authority.

Pliego and Sanchez are alleged to have worked as loan officers for the Obers. In addition, the complaint alleges Pliego ran a business called RP New Horizon, LLC as part of the Obers' scheme. RP New Horizon was "used to disguise illicit kickbacks of loan proceeds" to the Obers, according to the complaint. Also named in the complaint, but not charged, are Pliegos parents, who are alleged to have offered their names and bank accounts to help disguise kickbacks. [DOWNLOAD COMPLAINT]

The charges against the Obers are backed by a long paper trail. To obtain the FHA loans, the Obers created seven phony businesses -- like "Bio-Medical Solutions," supposedly in Red Wing, and "Franconello Italian Restaurant," said to have been on Minnehaha Ave.-- which were listed as employers on loan documents. Minnesota Department of Commerce determined that none of the businesses ever existed at the given addresses.

ober fraud.JPG
From the complaint.
In a search of the Obers' home in Hudson, officers discovered a cell phone which investigators believe was used as a "phone tree," which took calls for the fake businesses. When a call came in, the phone could bring up a number which identified which fake business was being called, allowing the person answering to "correctly pose as each employer," the complaint alleges. The Franconello Italian Restaurant is listed in the Yellow Pages, but a call to the given phone number produced a "not in service" message.

The Obers are also alleged to have falsified college transcripts, to explain a straw buyers' lack of documented income. The Obers also "used counterfeit divorce decrees that purported to be issued by Minnesota District Courts in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota, and Wright Counties," according to the complaint. In some instances, the Obers allegedly used the  names of real area judges and forged signatures.

Other times, they allegedly created fictitious judges to grant divorces. When interviewed by investigators from the state Department of Commerce, each of the supposedly divorced couples said they had never divorced. [DOWNLOAD THE ALLEGED FORGERY]

Freeman said the majority of the straw buyers, who often know little about the scheme, would likely not face criminal charges for participating.

"Often a straw buyer is an unemployed or homeless person," he said.

Freeman said the county attorney's office had filed 53 mortgage fraud charges in the last five years, "almost all" of them related to sub-prime mortgages. In an unprompted tangent during the press conference, Freeman made reference to the pending Minnesota government shutdown.

"We're going into this time of government shutdown," Freeman said. "I'm not talking politics here, I'm talking about good work by hard working state employees, and federal employees, and county employees. Without that, this fraud, this scheme would not have been uncovered, these people would not be brought to justice."

None of the four defendants are in custody. The Obers and Pliego have been issued a summons, and a warrant has been issued for Sanchez's arrest.

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My Voice Nation Help

I glad to finally see that these crooks were caught.  I just hope they serve time for what they have done.  Does anyone know how much money the have cost US the Taxpayers?  LOTS of $$$$$$$$.  They have been at it for 30 + years and move from state to state doing the same thing..  Wouldn't you think that they should be banned from doing any mortgage loans or real estate  transactions ANYWHERE IN THE USA?????   GO TO JAIL  DO NOT PASS GO  I hope.  

Kirk the Conservative Jerk
Kirk the Conservative Jerk

"preyed on the depressed housing market"????

So when you buy your house in a down market, you're preying on someone.  Preying on who?  Foreclosed properties are owned by the bank."You evil person!"Not giving the bank what the home is truly worth.WTF?

"We're going into this time of government shutdown," Freeman said. "I'm not talking politics here, I'm talking about good work by hard working state employees, and federal employees, and county employees. Without that, this fraud, this scheme would not have been uncovered, these people would not be brought to justice."

Bullshit Freeman!Statue of  limitations allows you to pick it up later after government operations resume.This clowns statement is purely politics! See how "big government" begets big government?

Michelle Bachmann
Michelle Bachmann

It's weird how you are always on the side of the rich criminals.   I doubt you are much of a legal expert either.  Common sense would say to me it wouldn't be the best thing for an investigation to drag out longer like you suggest.    I'm guessing Mike Freeman knows just a little bit more about catching criminals than you.   I would guess that the longer an investigation drags out the greater the chance the money disappears or witnesses aren't as sharp on what happened.  Then again I'm only using common sense and my brain to figure things out but maybe your stupid crazy hatred of public workers is a better way to form an opinion. 

Kirk the Conservative Jerk
Kirk the Conservative Jerk

Remember, I worked for the City of Saint Paul for several years.  Some of my closest friends still work there.  I fact, I still have a pension coming from the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), unless I pull it early.  Yep, I'm getting a 8.65% annual rate of return on every dollar I had put in.  Damn the tax payers are dumb!  8.65%, you fools!  How can anyone feel that's sustainable?

And, Mike Fuckstick's comments ARE PURELY POLITICAL!  He listed hard work done by the feds.  No hard work was done on this case by any fed, otherwise it would be their case.  And besides, I didn't realize Minnesota's situation had anything to do with shutting down the fed.  Is Mike really that dumb?  Or is he playing politics, while he lying and claiming he's not?   And of course the longer an investigation drags out, the greater the chance the money disappears, and witnesses aren't as sharp on what happened.  He's fear mongering on "if and buts", as if the shutdown is present tense.And Fake MB you say, "It's weird how you are always on the side of the rich criminals".  Well MB, kinda sounds like my statement was for the private home buyer, and against the banks.  I thought, per you liberals, the banks are the biggest and the richest of the criminals.  Did that change?Does it feel good, or is it always important to oppose everything I say, right or wrong?

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