(FREEHOLD) A Holmdel man was sentenced Friday to 12 years in a New Jersey state prison after he admitted in January he laundered millions of dollars through an extensive mortgage refinance fraud scheme bilking more than 40 homeowners in New Jersey and New York out of more than $7.5 million, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.
Frederick Tropeano, 47, was sentenced Friday to 12 years in state prison with a five-year, ten-month period of parole ineligibility by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Reisner, J.S.C. Tropeano pleaded guilty in January to first-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity (money laundering). Judge Reisner also ordered Tropeano to pay his victims $6,719,634.14 in restitution.
Tropeano has been incarcerated in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold Township, since the date of his arrest on July 21, 2010. His arrest came after a yearlong investigation that revealed Tropeano and a number of his associates from Hawthorne Capital Corporation (Hawthorne), formerly of Manalapan and New York City, engaged in a systematic scheme to defraud dozens of homeowners and financial institutions throughout New Jersey and New York – a fraudulent investment system often referred to as a “Ponzi” scheme.
The investigation began in May 2010 after a homeowner contacted the Office regarding concerns she had about her home refinance with Hawthorne. The homeowner indicated a check sent by Hawthorne, intended to pay off her original mortgage, bounced due to non-sufficient funds to support its deposit. Further investigation uncovered widespread and ongoing fraud within the company, to include 11 additional homeowners who were defrauded by Hawthorne in the refinance of their homes, as well as an attorney in New York whose identity had been stolen and used in furtherance of the fraud.
The president of Hawthorne was identified in corporate filings as Silvano Tropeano, the father of Frederick Tropeano. Hawthorne had offices in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, although the principal location of its operations was in Manalapan. Frederick Tropeano was identified as the individual responsible for the daily business operations at Hawthorne. The mortgage refinance fraud scheme was perpetrated by Tropeano and his conspirators’ ability to manipulate and control the entire property settlement process.
An example of the fraud scheme is as follows:
Homeowners would refinance with Hawthorne and banks would thereafter issue mortgage funds at settlement to refinance the properties. Rather than using these funds to appropriately pay off a homeowner’s original mortgage, Tropeano and his conspirators diverted and stole settlement funds and used the money to enrich themselves or members of their families, or alternatively used them to pay other outstanding and unrelated business debts. Two titles directly involved with Hawthorne – “Hawthorne Abstract” and “Rapid Abstract” – intentionally failed to conduct proper records checks to determine whether prior mortgages were being paid.
Title companies are required to ensure original mortgages are paid-in-full, and new refinance mortgages are properly recorded as an existing mortgage debt. Since Tropeano and his associates operated these related title companies they effectively controlled the entire “vertical” refinance process and were able to defraud homeowners who expected their homes to be refinanced, and banks that expected to have mortgage debts repaid or new debts properly recorded.
As the investigation progressed, investigators determined more than 40 homeowners were victimized by Hawthorne’s refinance scam. In some instances, funds intended to pay off the homeowners’ original mortgages were significantly delayed, resulting in negative reports on their credit scores and the need to hire legal counsel. In other instances, payoffs never occurred, leaving the homeowners with two mortgages attached to their properties.
Tropeano and his associates also stole the identities of two homeowners who filled out initial refinance applications, and illegally used these identities to cause financial lending institutions to fund refinances that never actually occurred.
The total amount of calculated theft perpetrated by Tropeano and his associates was more than $7.5 million.
To further the refinance fraud scheme, Frederick Tropeano and Silvano Tropeano established fraudulent bank accounts in the names of two attorneys, and listed them as the settlement agents on mortgage refinances without their knowledge or consent.
Co-defendant John Kosta conducted the closings on the new mortgages and also notarized documents required for the closings, despite the fact Kosta was not a notary or licensed to conduct such closings.
As a further part of the scheme, co-defendant Krista Selig, Esq., was listed as the settlement attorney on 12 fraudulent closings and facilitated the fraudulent transactions on behalf of Hawthorne.
Silvano Tropeano, John Kosta, and Krista Selig, Esq. all pleaded guilty in 2012 to third degree conspiracy charges before Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Scully and are pending sentence. Selig also pleaded guilty to a single third-degree theft count. All defendants agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of their co-defendants and are expected to receive probationary sentences.
The case was prosecuted by Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor John Loughrey, Director of the Office’s Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Bureau, and Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Costanzo. Tropeano is represented by Robert A. Honecker, Jr., Esq., of Ocean Township.