Michelle Austin-Wilks was charged in Palm Beach, Florida with wire fraud, which is a Federal offense. The charges are federal and could result in up to 30 years behind bars. It is not clear who her criminal defense attorney is.
Austin-Wiks was originally charged along with six real estate agents, mortgage brokers, realtors, attorneys and title agents and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and substantive wire fraud in August 2011.
Charged along with her at the time were Ghaith Al Nahar, 40, formerly of Boynton Beach; Romy Defay, 28, of West Palm Beach; Philip Jay Newman, 58, of Miami Jeffery Gilbert, 53, of Miramar; and Lucien Laguerre, 37, of Lauderhill. The sextet was though to have orchestrated $9.2 million in fraudulent loans through the sale of homes in Lake Worth's Country Cove Estates.
The six were arrested along with 27 other Floridians in a mass mortgage fraud scheme that is believed to have netted over $30 million. The scheme capitalized on the booming real estate market just before the recession hit.
The additional charge against Austin-Wilks comes after an investigation by the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Task Force, a subsidiary of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Austin-Wilks reportedly had to be retrieved from Jamaica by the U.S. Marshal to face charges. It is not clear if she was there on vacation or to flee the charges, or for some other purpse.
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"As these cases illustrate, mortgage fraud has permeated every level of the industry, from straw buyers, to loan processors, to title agents and even attorneys," U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer, who was in charge of the investigation, commented.
According to a press release, Austin-Wilkis' part in the scheme came after Jinnie Mathurin, mortgage broker, and Guhier Florvilus, buyer, filled out fraudulent mortgage closing statements and loan applications in order to get large mortgages. Once the loans were approved, Austin-Wilkis, who was President and Director of an Oakland Park, Florida real estate title business called Direct Title & Escrow Services, Inc, created fraudulent HUD-1 Settlement Statements to trick lenders into providing large loans. The statements reportedly reflected vastly inflated purchase prices as compared to the seller's version of the statement and falsely stated that buyers were bringing their own funds to the closing.
In this way, Wilkis was reportedly able to get lenders to transfer around $3 million into her company account. She then transferred $382,000 to Florvilius and $68,562 to Mathurin for their participation. Florvilius and Mathurin have both pled guilty to the wire fraud charges and are awaiting sentencing.
In the original six who were charged together, Al Nahar and Defay were thought to have been responsible for finding straw buyers. Al Nahar was the operator of a Lake Worth company called Best Decisions Home Mortgage Inc. at the time. Laguerre, Gilbert and Newman were thought to have allowed their identities to be used to buy properties. One home in particular, a 5,200-square-foot home in Country Cove estates, caught officials' attention when it was appraised at $344,769. The home sold for $1.2 million in April 2007.