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Financial Crimes

Pastor among 10 indicted in Valley mortgage fraud scheme

PHOENIX — A Phoenix man was ordered detained until trial by a federal judge Thursday following his indictment in an alleged mortgage fraud conspiracy spanning more than 10 years and involving the fraudulent purchase and sale of real estate properties throughout the Valley.

Joel Martinez, 41, was indicted with nine other defendants by a federal grand jury May 30 following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Martinez and the other defendants are charged with 43 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, false representation of Social Security numbers and aggravated identity theft.

Also named in the indictment are:

  • Julio Cesar Esquivel Reyes, 38;
  • Estefana Salazar Olivares, 38, wife of Esquivel Reyes;
  • Claudia Salazar Olivares, 31, sister-in-law of Esquivel Reyes;
  • Martha Elena Gonzalez, 39, sister-in-law of Esquivel Reyes;
  • Andres M. Esquivel, 64, father of Esquivel Reyes;
  • Evangelina Gardner, 49, girlfriend of Andres Esquivel;
  • Solomon Moses Worden, 36;
  • Edgar Lira, 40; and
  • Luis Antonio Maldonado Tovar, 48, pastor of Grupo Amistad Church.

According to the indictment, Martinez and the other defendants purchased a number of real estate properties throughout the Valley between June 2001 and May 2012, with Esquivel Reyes and Gardner acting as real estate agents and Estefana Oliveras, Claudia Olivares and Gonzalez processing many of the loans. The indictment alleges the group specifically conspired to obtain mortgage loans by providing false information to lenders, used false information to refinance the fraudulently obtained mortgage loans, and received “cash back” prior to defaulting on the loans. Further, they are alleged to have obtained commissions from the sale of properties between conspirators, and to have sold fraudulently obtained properties to other members of the ring for drastically reduced prices through short sales.

Convictions for conspiracy and false representation of a Social Security number each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Convictions for wire fraud affecting a financial institution and false statements to a lending institution each carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, or both. A conviction for aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory penalty of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

HSI was assisted in the investigation by special agents with Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Levinson of the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona.