Desert Underwater: Scam Artists Prey on Struggling Homeowners - 8 News NOW

Desert Underwater: Scam Artists Prey on Struggling Homeowners

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LAS VEGAS -- The 8 News NOW I-Team ran its first mortgage fraud story in 2007. The victim lost his home, a chunk of change to lawyers, and some measure of his pride. Four years later, thousands more like him can make similar claims.

Fraud remains rampant, and despite hundreds of prosecutions, there is no shortage of crooks ready to take a homeowner's last buck. Investigators say for every scammer they put out of business, there are 10 more eager to take their place. And unlike the crooks of old, some cons have ties to sophisticated criminal enterprises.

But perhaps what is most surprising is the lengths to which people will go to prey on the desperate, even after they land behind bars.

When state investigators came calling on the Good Government League, professional courtesies between the two didn't exactly sound like a meet and greet among public employees. Sonia Rodis, managing member of the League formerly called Biogreen Teck stands accused of theft and mortgage fraud, along with her alleged partner in crime, notary Hans Johns.

Desert Underwater: Foreclosure Resource Guide

"The group of victims that we're seeing are already financially struggling -- they're losing their homes. That's why they're seeking help," said Chief Deputy Attorney General John Kelleher.

According to court records, Rodis and Johns sold a so-called zero mortgage program. For thousands of dollars up front, plus 10 percent of the mortgage over two years, Rodis would draft and Johns would notarize documents to eliminate the mortgage.

Read the Criminal Complaint

Read the Affidavit in Support

Ron and Dora Disbrow say they paid Rodis $1,000 to foreclose on their bank. They filed the papers and then received notice from their lender rejecting the claim.

"You think, 'Oh yeah, that's great. It's got to be on the up and up,'" said Ron Disbrow. "She talked a really good game, that's the scary part. How many people actually lost their homes because of this -- because of her?"

Rodis allegedly had an accomplice -- her boyfriend Alex Soria. He was missing from the raid on the Good Government League due to his current status as a federal prisoner, accused in a loan modification scheme. Yet state prosecutors allege Soria didn't let jail keep him from his business.

Court records reveal phone calls between Soria, Rodis, and Johns from behind bars suggest Soria directed their latest venture.

"This type of crime, we've never seen it on this scale before," said Chief Deputy Attorney General John Kelleher.

Kelleher supervises the Attorney General's Mortgage Fraud Task Force. Since its inception in 2007, the unit has prosecuted dozens of scammers accused of stealing millions of dollars collectively from unsuspecting homeowners.

"It's not ok for our banking, real estate, and mortgage businesses to be a spider web where every time you enter into it, you're waiting for that spider to pounce. That's not ok, and we're seeing the result of that kind of business approach going on for too long," said Kelleher.

SLIDESHOW: People Arrested for Foreclosure Scams

Jack Ferm, was ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in restitution to his victims. Ferm, doing business as US Justice Foundation in Las Vegas, was indicted by the grand jury in October 2009 for running a scam in which he used television ads to lure homeowners into believing the company would provide assistance to clients in the preparation of both complaints against predatory lenders and documents to stop foreclosures. He pled no contest and agreed to pay restitution. (See note below.)

Joseph Yorkus is currently serving up to 10 years in prison for mortgage fraud and theft. Yorkus and co-defendant James Bartczak convinced homeowners they were their new mortgage servicers.

And Cindy Birkland, owner of Sapphire Mortgage, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. She admitted to forging millions of dollars worth of mortgage documents to skim cash from the loan proceeds.

"We have a handle on the loan modification scams and then boom, foreclosure scams start popping up. We start addressing those or the origination fraud and now we're seeing fraud or scams in the short sales. Start looking at those and we see scams in the rentals. This is an unprecedented scheme," said Kelleher.

Rodis holds herself out as a homeowner's advocate, according to court records. Yet when questioned about her methods, the outspoken champion had nothing to say to the I-Team or to her alleged victims.

"I'd like to see these people put away for a long time so they can never do this again to somebody else," said Disbrow.

According to court records, Soria is a close to a deal on his federal charges. The state counts involving Soria, Rodis, and Johns are just starting to move through the system.

Report Suspected Fraud to the Attorney General's Office

**This article originally identified the individuals in the story as having been "convicted" in Clark County of crimes where homeowners were victims. As explained in the above story, Jack Ferm was not convicted but instead entered a "no contest" plea agreement with the AG's office, in which he plead no contest to one count of "Theft-obtaining money in excess of $2,500 by a material representation", and agreed to pay restitution to the charged victims. The plea agreement also allows that if Ferm makes full restitution by the end of a probation period, he may request an amended criminal information reducing his charge to "Attempted Theft," a misdemeanor.    

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