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Financial Crimes

9 South Florida residents charged in $12 million bank fraud scheme

MIAMI - Nine South Florida residents were arrested on federal criminal charges in a $12 million bank fraud scheme, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Secret Service, and the City of Miami Police Department.

Maria Baksh, 50, of Hollywood, Fla., Juan Cardenas, 48, of Miami, Gabriel Cifuentes, 63, of Hialeah, Fla., Maureen Cifuentes, 35, of Hialeah, Lucia Garcia, 58, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., Roberto Hernandez, 66, of Miami, Maribel Roman, 47, of Hialeah, Reinaldo Roman, Jr., 39, of Hialeah, and Roberto Rodriguez, 43, of Miami, are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud in connection with a $12 million scheme.

Two others have already pleaded guilty in related cases. Luis Felipe Perez, 38, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Berta Sanders, 61, of Miami Lakes, Fla., both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in connection with the scheme. Perez was sentenced to 10 years and Sanders is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 22.

According to the charging documents, from around September 2005 through September 2008, the defendants conspired to submit false loan applications to Wells Fargo Bank, formerly known as Wachovia Bank, for the purpose of obtaining approximately $12 million in commercial lines of credit. This resulted in approximately $10 million in losses to the bank.

To execute the scheme, Sanders, a certified public accountant, allegedly promoted herself as someone who could help borrowers obtain approval for the lines of credit by preparing their loan applications. Sanders allegedly prepared loan applications on behalf of the defendants. These loan applications contained false information about the defendants' business income, assets, and accounts receivable. Sanders also prepared false tax returns, bank statements, and personal financial statements for the line of credit applications. The charging documents further allege that, as compensation for preparing the false loan applications that were submitted to Wachovia Bank, the defendants paid Sanders a fee of approximately 10 percent of the loan amount.

Perez, who pleaded guilty to a related $40-million securities fraud Ponzi scheme, also recruited many of the defendants and referred them to Sanders for assistance in applying for the commercial lines of credit. Perez induced many of these individuals to obtain the fraud-based loans in order to invest the proceeds into his Ponzi scheme.

When Perez's Ponzi scheme ultimately collapsed in May 2009, most of the fraudulent loans obtained from Wachovia defaulted.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roger Cruz and Richard Gregorie.

An indictment or information is only an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.