The trio unsuccessfully sought to declare themselves immune from prosecution
Three more co-conspirators have been taken into custody on charges related to a multi-layered mortgage fraud, credit repair and government loan fraud scheme, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced.
Heather Ann Campos, David Lewis Best Jr. and Stephen Laverne Crabtree had evaded law enforcement for several months, officials said. Campos, 43, of Houston, was up for a detention hearing while Best, 56, of Spring, Texas, and Crabtree, 62, of Herriman, Utah, remained in custody pending further criminal proceedings.
All three are accused of sending numerous sovereign citizen letters to federal agencies and the federal court in Houston declaring themselves immune from prosecution and refusing to recognize the authority of the federal courts, justice officials said.
Campos and Best were indicted in January on numerous charges for participating in a conspiracy to defraud mortgage lending businesses, banks, the Small Business Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission, according to the complaint. They indicated they would self-surrender before allegedly fleeing from law enforcement. Since that date, several other co-conspirators were indicted, officials added, including Crabtree. He was released on bond and became a fugitive.
Those indicted include Steven Tetsuya Morizono, 59, of Mission Viejo, Calif,; Albert Lugene Lim, 53, Laguna Niguel, Calif.; Melinda Moreno Munoz, 41, Elvina Buckley, 68, Leslie Edrington, 65, and ShyAnne Edrington, 29, all of Houston.
The charges allege Campos and Best recruited clients for credit repair using company names of KMD Credit, KMD Capital and Jeff Funding, among others. They allegedly “cleaned” their clients’ credit histories by filing false identity theft reports with the FTC, justice officials said.
“After fraudulently inflating client credit worthiness, the co-conspirators fraudulently obtained credit cards, disaster loans and mortgages for themselves and their clients, according to the charges,” justice officials said. “They were allegedly able to accomplish this through false statements and fake documents.”
Campos was a mortgage broker and Buckley a realtor, while operating as a notary was the responsibility of Munoz, according to the charges. After fraudulently inflating client credit worthiness, the individuals allegedly obtained rental properties to deceptively build a real estate portfolio worth millions of dollars in their clients’ names and profit from rental income. The charges allege Crabtree was a credit repair client and recruited others, including his family members, and conspired to commit wire fraud.
They also allegedly obtained loans from banks and the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and Paycheck Protection Program, justice officials said. They were created in the names of clients, friends and family members through false statements and fake or altered documents, officials added.
Using the alias Jeff, Morizono was the leader and namesake for the scheme purporting to do business as Jeff Funding, according to the charges.
If convicted, they each face up to 30 years in federal prison and a possible $1 million maximum fine.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Postal Inspection Service and SBA – OIG conducted the investigation with the assistance of the FTC – OIG and IRS – Criminal Investigation.
Other agencies assisted with the arrests of Campos, Best and Crabtree, to include The Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake; police departments in South Jordan, Riverton, and Herriman, Utah; FBI Hostage Rescue Team; U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City Divisions; and the U.S. Marshals Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Force.
The news comes amid a spike in mortgage fraud. According to a CoreLogic report, mortgage fraud risk soared in the fourth quarter of 2021 due to a drop in overall loan application volume and the shift to a purchase market.
CoreLogic’s 2021 Mortgage Fraud Report showed a 37.2% year-over-year increase in fraud risk at the end of the second quarter of 2021. The large increase followed a drop seen in 2020 – a decrease driven mainly by the surge in traditionally low-risk refinances during the pandemic.