I-Team: Local woman says she was scammed out of life savings

I-Team

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Las Vegas woman claims she was scammed out of nearly $300,000.

Sweta Patel said her credit score was perfect and she had saved a substantial downpayment for a dream home, but that’s all gone. Now, she’s suing those she claims defrauded her.

Patel said she wired money to a diamond dealer, Albert Peres, with a promise of a generous return. Patel filed a lawsuit against Peres, the mortgage broker who introduced her to him, Habiba Bakous, and the company Bakous worked for, Fairway Independent Mortgage.

Patel alleges breach of contract and fraud.

According to a complaint, in 2019, Patel signed a contract for the construction of a new home. In January of 2020, she connected with Bakous.

Patel claims Bakous told her if she didn’t put down 70 percent she wouldn’t be able to get a loan.

In March, she claims Bakous introduced her to Albert Peres, who she says was in the diamond business and would invest her money with a 10-day return. Patel wired him $260,000. But 10 days came and went with no return.

Patel claims she lost the money she wired, lost out on the house, and $40,000 in additional deposits.

“I felt this guy was very sincere and I felt this mortgage lender was a good person,” said Patel. “I had no idea that this was really what was going on behind the scenes and I guess I gave a lot of credit to Fairway (Independent Mortgage).”

The I-Team reached out to the defendants through their attorneys. Peres’ attorney sent a statement which reads in part: “It is Albert’s sincere hope that there will be an amicable resolution to the issues that have been complicated by the unforeseen business restrictions caused by the ongoing pandemic.” (full statement below)

Bakous provided a three-page statement through her attorney (full statement below). She claims she had nothing to do with what was discussed between Patel and Peres. She said she believes the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions are preventing Peres from selling the diamond Patel invested in.

Attempts to reach Fairway were unsuccessful, but in a response filed in court, the company “specifically denies Bakous was acting in the course and scope of her employment with Fairway during any communications with plaintiff regarding or involving Peres.”

Bakous said the company fired her.

For now, the lawsuit continues. Patel has a warning for potential homebuyers.

“I just hope that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Patel. “I hope that my story will inspire people to take a closer look into their situations before giving even a professional their money.”

The I-Team reached out to the Nevada Attorney General’s office, which investigates scams. A spokeswoman said a key way to protect yourself is to research any investment opportunity. When signing with a mortgage broker, ask for references, and beware of high-pressure tactics or threats of a missed opportunity.

Fairway Mortgage sent a letter to 8NewsNow stating that the Nevada Division of Mortgage Lending cleared the company of any wrongdoing in this case.

The Division of Mortgage Lending (the “Division”) has completed the investigation on the complaint filed by Sweta Patel.

According to our review of the information provided by all parties, the Division found no violation of NRS/NAC § 645B. At this time, the Division is closing this case; however, reserves the right to reopen the investigation should new information become available.

As the Division continues to telework due to COVID-19 restrictions, the office remains closed to the public with limited staff on-site.

DIVISION OF MORTGAGE LENDING

Bakous released a statement through her attorney:

“In early 2020, Ms. Patel asked if I could assist her in applying for a mortgage to purchase a home in Las Vegas, Nevada. On behalf of Fairway Independent Mortgage Company (“Fairway”), the company I was working with at the time, I assisted Ms. Patel in completing the necessary paperwork to apply for a mortgage.

I used the best of my ability to obtain the most favorable loan terms for Ms. Patel. However, I do not have any control over what lenders decide to offer. On or about February 28, 2020, Fairway pre-approved Ms. Patel for a 30-year loan with two (2) separate terms. The first term required a 10% down payment, carrying an interest rate of 4.99%. The second term required a 20% down payment, carrying an interest rate of 4.50%. I informed Ms. Patel of these pre-approval options on or about that same date.  

Ms. Patel rejected the pre-approval terms even though the pre-approval terms were the going rate lenders offered homebuyers at the time based on Ms. Patel’s financials. Ultimately, Ms. Patel decided to forego seeking a mortgage in early March 2020. At the same time, the government began issuing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting the mortgage lending market.

Ms. Patel and I developed a personal friendship after she first contacted me about a mortgage. We discussed multiple topics as friends and continued to do so even though Ms. Patel decided to forego seeking a mortgage.

Then, in mid-March 2020, Ms. Patel called me upset and crying. During this conversation, Ms. Patel asked me if I knew of any short-term investment opportunities with high returns on investment. I had known a friend, Albert Peres, for about five years. Mr. Peres is in the diamond-investing business. During our time as friends, Mr. Peres asked that if I knew anyone interested in investing in diamonds, he would like to meet such a person.

During my conversation with Ms. Patel in mid-March 2020, I told Ms. Patel about Mr. Peres. Ms. Patel reacted with high enthusiasm and asked me to introduce her to Mr. Peres. I did as requested and personally introduced Ms. Patel to Mr. Peres. After Ms. Patel and Mr. Peres met, they left me alone to discuss business privately between themselves. I had nothing to do with what was discussed between Ms. Patel and Mr. Peres privately. However, after their meeting Ms. Patel told me that she agreed to invest with Mr. Peres in diamond investing.

I believed the investment would be fruitful for Ms. Patel as I knew others who invested with Mr. Peres and were happy with the outcomes. Sometime after their meeting, Ms. Patel offered me a commission on her return on investment for introducing her to Mr. Peres, contingent on Ms. Patel receiving her return on investment.  I was grateful for her generosity and thoroughly believed that Mr. Peres would be able to sell the invested diamond.

Since that time, both Ms. Patel and Mr. Peres informed me that the sale of the diamond was delayed. According to Mr. Peres, he needs to physically travel to Europe to sell the invested diamond. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mr. Peres had been unable to do so until recently. As far as I know, Mr. Peres has recently been able to access these countries and should be able to sell the invested diamond shortly. I fully believe that Mr. Peres will sell the diamond that Ms. Patel invested in.

Ms. Patel’s accusations that Mr. Peres and I entered a scheme to defraud Ms. Patel’s finances are false. As I explained, Ms. Patel was pre-approved for two different mortgage rates but decided to forego the offers. I never mentioned Mr. Peres to Ms. Patel until she asked me for investment opportunities.

During the time that I have known Mr. Peres, I knew him to be a wealthy and generous man. I knew people that Mr. Peres had either loaned or gifted money to. In March 2020, I had a conversation with Mr. Peres where I explained my finances were tight due to a decrease of business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Mr. Peres offered what I interpreted to be a gift of $10,000 to help make ends meet during the difficult time.

I understand that Ms. Patel claims this $10,000 gift is evidence that Mr. Peres and I were scheming to defraud her. This is not true. As stated, I used my best efforts to secure a favorable loan for Ms. Patel. Ms. Patel’s claim that I intentionally denied her a loan is not logical. If Ms. Patel had accepted Fairway’s pre-approval terms and closed on a mortgage, I would have made an estimated $10,000 in commission from Fairway.

I am currently working as a Mortgage Loan Officer and possess an active license issued by the state of Nevada. The Nevada Department of Mortgage Lending conducted an investigation based on Ms. Patel’s accusations and did not take any disciplinary actions against me. I use my best efforts to secure the best loan terms for my clients and operate with the highest ethical obligations.

Habiba Bakous

Peres released a statement through his attorney:

Mr. Peres is a long-time resident and diamond broker in Las Vegas with an impeccable reputation of honesty and fair business dealing. Due to ongoing litigation, he is not able to discuss specifics of this matter however, it is Albert’s sincere hope that there will be an amicable resolution to the issues that have been complicated by the unforeseen business restrictions caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Gary S. Fink, Esq.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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