Monday, September 3, 2012

Actor and Accountant Agree to Plead Guilty to Conspiracy Charges in Mortgage Fraud Scheme That Cost Banks $3.8 Million

Actor Tommy Lister, who has appeared in approximately 100 movies, and a San Fernando Valley accountant were charged in federal court with conspiring to commit mortgage fraud in a scheme that led to $3.8 million in losses.

Lister, who is also known as “Tiny” and “Zeus,” a 54-year-old Chatsworth resident, was charged this afternoon in a criminal information with one count of conspiracy.

A second person involved in the scheme—Arcelia Chavez, 48, of Northridge, who is a self-employed certified tax preparer—was also charged today with conspiracy.

In plea agreements that were also filed this afternoon in United States District Court, both Lister and Chavez agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy charges.

The court documents filed today outline a scheme that ran from November 2005 through June 2007 and involved Lister, Chavez, and several other individuals, including: Sami Sager Sweiss, formerly a mortgage loan officer based in Woodland Hills; Jason Patterson, a real estate agent in Long Beach; J.R., formerly a manager of a Washington Mutual Bank branch in Woodland Hills; and Wanda Tenney, formerly an escrow officer based in the San Fernando Valley.

Lister conspired with these individuals to fraudulently acquire title to four residential properties he could not afford. With the help of these individuals and others, Lister obtained mortgages for the four properties through fraudulent means, including submitting mortgage applications that included inflated income and asset amounts; fabricating bank statements and falsifying other documents to substantiate the fraudulent statements in the loan applications; and falsifying escrow records to deceive lenders into believing Lister had made required down payments.

In addition to fraudulently obtaining the mortgages, Lister and his co-conspirators concealed from lenders the fact that he would receive kickbacks from sellers after the real estate deals closed.

Relying on the fraudulent applications and documents, lenders issued mortgages totaling $5.7 million. Lister subsequently defaulted on the four mortgages, causing those lenders and their successors to lose approximately $2.6 million.

After acquiring title to the four residential properties, Lister obtained fraudulent home equity lines of credit on each of the four properties. Lister drew down a total of $1,146,000 in cash from the four HELOCs but did not pay back any of the principal.

Lister also admitted in his plea agreement that Chavez aided and abetted him in obtaining one of the fraudulent mortgages and a fraudulent HELOC by preparing a false CPA letter, as well as fabricating W-2s and a pay stub. The false CPA letter stated that Chavez had prepared Lister’s tax returns. Chavez separately admitted in her plea agreement that she prepared the false and fictitious documents, actions that caused lenders to lose approximately $1.1 million.

Lister and Chavez will be summoned to appear in federal court in Los Angeles in September.

The charge of conspiracy carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

On July 30, 2012, Sweiss pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count before United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer. As part of his guilty plea, Sweiss admitted that he conspired with Lister, Patterson, Tenney, and Chavez to commit mortgage fraud. Sweiss is scheduled to be sentenced on March 18, 2013.

The charges in this case are the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS-Criminal Investigation.

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