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Nov. 27, 2013

Bakersfield Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty in Crisp & Cole Real Estate Fraud Scheme

FRESNO, CA—Jeriel Salinas, 32, of Bakersfield, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud relating to his involvement in an extensive mortgage fraud scheme while working at Crisp & Cole Real Estate, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to the plea agreement, Carl Cole and David Crisp owned and operated Crisp & Cole Real Estate and Tower Lending, an affiliated mortgage brokerage. Salinas was employed at CCRE as a licensed real estate agent, and according to court documents, between January 2004 and September 2007, he and others at CCRE and Tower Lending carried out a conspiracy to defraud financial institutions in part by using straw purchasers to acquire properties at inflated prices with funds borrowed from lenders, often using 100 percent financing, based on false and fraudulent loan applications. The properties were nominally owned in the names of the straw buyers but were controlled by the conspirators and held for the benefit of the conspirators and CCRE.

The conspirators frequently resold the properties from one straw buyer to another, each time at an inflated, higher price so that the conspirators and CCRE could extract the purported increased "equity" from the property for their benefit. Ultimately, and in many cases after the properties were flipped several times through various straw purchasers, most of the properties were foreclosed upon after the defendants failed to make the mortgage payments when due. According to court documents, the conspiracy caused close to $30 million in losses to mortgage loan companies and other financial institutions.

According to his plea agreement, Salinas knowingly caused numerous fraudulent loan applications to be submitted to lenders. He knowingly purchased at least six properties as a straw buyer in Bakersfield and Shaver Lake. Salinas served as the real estate broker and received commissions for some of the fraudulent transactions. His actions caused $1.4 million to $2.5 million in losses to lenders.

Salinas is scheduled to be sentenced on February 24, 2014, by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill. Salinas faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine in addition to mandatory restitution. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kirk Sherriff, Henry Carbajal, III, and Christopher Baker are prosecuting the case.

Co-defendants Carl Cole, Caleb Cole, Sneha Ramesh Mohammadi, Jayson Peter Costa, and Michael Angelo Munoz previously pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. Co-defendant Robinson Nguyen, a former CCRE real estate agent, pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and was sentenced to 27 months in prison. The remaining co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and are currently set for trial on February 4, 2014. The charges as to those defendants are only allegations, and they are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Source: United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California

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