Sacramento, California - After a 16-day trial, a federal jury Friday found Vera Kuzmenko, 45, of Loomis, and Rachel Siders, 40, of Roseville, guilty of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud associated with their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that cost financial institutions over $16 million, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Vera Kuzmenko was also found guilty of witness tampering and money laundering associated with the scheme.
According to evidence presented at trial, from late 2006 through early 2008, the defendants engaged in a mortgage fraud scheme involving over 30 properties in the Sacramento area. The defendants were responsible for securing more than $30 million in residential mortgage loans on more than 30 homes purchased through straw buyers. Records introduced at trial showed Vera Kuzmenko received millions of dollars and Rachel Siders received hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Vera Kuzmenko, who had been a licensed real estate agent for part of the scheme, created fraudulent loan applications on behalf of the straw buyers. The loan applications contained materially false information as to the straw buyers’ income, employment, assets, and intent to occupy the residences. The loan paperwork also hid from lenders millions of dollars of payments that went to the defendants. Vera Kuzmenko also served as a straw-buyer herself. With respect to the witness tampering count, the evidence showed that after Kuzmenko learned the FBI was investigating her, she told various witnesses to lie to the FBI and blame a dead woman for the fraud.
Rachel Siders ran the Rocklin office of the escrow company used on the majority of the transactions. She helped funnel millions of dollars to the defendants, which was not disclosed to the lenders.
“Vera Kuzmenko was a major figure in a network of fraudsters responsible for a wave of mortgage fraud that hit the Sacramento area,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “As the guilty verdicts in this case demonstrate, mortgage fraudsters who believe they can escape accountability for their crime by blaming others and offering false alibis are mistaken.”
“Vera Kuzmenko and her associates intentionally victimized their community, abusing trust to significantly damage the financial wellbeing of victims and negatively impact regional economy. This greed-fueled, multimillion dollar fraud scheme had a lasting, negative effect on the regional real estate market,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Manuel Alvarez of the FBI’s Sacramento field office. “We hope today’s verdict serves as a warning to would-be fraudsters that the FBI will aggressively pursue perpetrators of large, complex financial fraud to protect regional economies and ensure justice for their victims.”
“Mortgage fraud is an incredibly destructive crime that leaves many victims in its wake,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge, Andrew Toth. “The impact on homeowners and communities is devastating. While this verdict cannot reverse the damage caused by these defendants, it highlights the ongoing commitment of IRS-CI to hold accountable those involved in these types of crimes.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lee S. Bickley and Michael D. Anderson and Special U.S. Attorney David J. Ward are prosecuting the case.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge John A. Mendez on March 15, 2016. Each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison on each of their counts of conviction for wire and mail fraud. Vera Kuzmenko faces an additional 20 years for each count of conviction for witness tampering and money laundering. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
On October 20, 2015, Judge Mendez sentenced co-defendants Peter Kuzmenko, 37, of West Sacramento, to 19 years in prison; Aaron New, 41, of Sacramento, to 11 years and three months in prison; Nadia Kuzmenko, 36, formerly of Loomis, to eight years in prison; and Edward Shevtsov, 51, of North Highlands, to eight years in prison. They were found guilty on February 13, 2015, after a 21-day trial, of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud associated with the mortgage fraud scheme. In addition, Peter Kuzmenko, Edward Shevtsov, and Aaron New were found guilty of money laundering associated with the scheme, and Nadia Kuzmenko was found guilty of witness tampering.