A group of current and former Broward police officers surrendered Thursday to federal authorities on mortgage fraud charges. Their attorneys asserted they did nothing wrong to obtain millions in home loans.
Lawyers representing seven current and former police officers and an FBI agent charged in a $16.5 million mortgage fraud indictment said Thursday they did nothing wrong, and that two brokers who arranged the loans were to blame for falsifying records.
Attorney Michael Walsh, representing the accused ringleader, former Plantation officer Joseph Guaracino, said his client was an active investor who brought in the others to buy dozens of properties during the real estate boom. They submitted truthful information to qualify for the loans, he said.
``What Joe and the other cops did was legitimate,'' Walsh said after a Fort Lauderdale bond hearing for most of the 13 defendants charged in the indictment that was unsealed Wednesday. ``We know what we submitted, and the records were clean. We can't say what the mortgage brokers did, exactly -- except they committed the fraud.''
Walsh and other defense lawyers said the U.S. attorney's office is building the controversial case on the words of mortgage brokers Matthew Gulla of Davie and Rene Rodriguez Jr. of Plantation, who are cooperating with prosecutors.
The two brokers surrendered Wednesday and were granted bonds. Their lawyers, Howard Greitzer and Fred Haddad, declined to comment.
Guaracino boasts on his website that he is the president and founder of the Home Buyers Group and has ``purchased, remodeled and resold over 100 million dollars in residential property.'' According to the indictment, he located properties and negotiated the sales of at least 38 of them in Broward and Palm Beach counties on behalf of the seven other current and former law enforcement officers.
Collectively, the officers are charged with conspiring with mortgage brokers, attorneys and others to submit false income records, job descriptions, bank statements and loan applications to dupe lenders in South Florida and elsewhere from 2004 to 2007.
But their real goal -- disguised by the false paperwork -- was to rent the properties and then sell them, thereby ``realizing substantial profit,'' the indictment states.
Guaracino, his brother, Dennis Guaracino Jr., and John Velez, all former Plantation officers, surrendered Thursday and were granted bail. The Guaracinos each pleaded not guilty, while Velez's arraignment was delayed until July 20.
Two other Plantation cops, Daryl Radziwon and Casey Mittauer, along with Lauderhill officer Joseph LaGrasta, also surrendered and were granted bond by U.S. Magistrate Lurana Snow. Radziwon pleaded not guilty, while the others will be arraigned July 20.
Also surrendering Thursday were prominent Fort Lauderdale lawyer Steven Stoll, a mortgage broker who owned a title company, and Boca Raton lawyer Stephen Orchard, who worked with Stoll. They were granted bond, and also will be arraigned July 20.
At the bond hearing, prosecutors Laurie Rucoba and Pat Sullivan told the judge that two of the defendants had received ``intimidating'' letters from an anonymous source and that someone had rummaged through the garbage can of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent who investigated the case.
Snow, the magistrate, ordered the defendants not to contact each other, possible victims or government witnesses.
On Friday, two other defendants, Plantation police officer Joseph DeRosa and FBI agent Robert DePriest of Plantation, will surrender.
DePriest, coordinator of an FBI hazardous-materials team, normally would be placed on administrative leave without pay after being indicted. But in this instance he will be able to keep his job with pay while the case is pending because FBI supervisors believe he broke no laws, sources said.
His lawyers, Jon Sale and Jayne Weintraub, declined to comment.
According to the indictment, DePriest was among the buyers recruited by Guaracino who qualified for loans by providing phony information to lenders.
DePriest is accused of supplying ``false and fraudulent statements'' on a ``uniform residential loan application'' to secure a mortgage for a $545,000 home in the 100 block of Southwest 101st Avenue in early 2005. He said that it would be owner-occupied and his primary residence -- untrue statements, according to the indictment.
He is also accused of preparing and using ``false rental income'' from his actual primary residence and other properties to qualify as a borrower.
DePriest is also accused of committing the same offenses when he applied for another loan to buy a second home in the 9600 block of Northwest 10th Court, including ``material omissions'' such as ``the failure to list the complete assets and liabilities of the borrower.''
Among the omissions: the other rental property he had purchased in Plantation.
BY JAY WEAVER, jweaver@MiamiHerald.com