Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State Attorney General; and Janice K. Fedarcyk, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced charges today against IFEANYICHUKWU ERIC ABAKPORO and LATANYA PIERCE for allegedly swindling an elderly woman out of her multi-million-dollar property in Harlem that she had owned for more than 40 years and then deceiving a bank into giving them a $1.8 million mortgage loan secured by the property. ABAKPORO was arrested Monday in Queens, New York, and PIERCE was arrested yesterday after voluntarily surrendering to the FBI.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “As alleged, these two defendants preyed on an elderly woman, using false documents and fraudulent representations to essentially steal her property out from under her. They then allegedly took their brazen scheme one step further, using the property to deceive a bank into lending them more than a million dollars. Sadly, this type of mortgage fraud scheme and exploitation of vulnerable victims have become all too familiar, but as these charges make clear, we are committed to bringing those who perpetrate these types of harmful schemes to justice.”
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated: “Through lies and deception, these individuals abused the trust of an elderly woman in order to perpetrate a multi-million-dollar fraud. Now that their despicable scheme has been exposed, they will face justice.”
Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk stated: “These defendants are charged with spinning a web of lies to steal the victim’s property. Cases like this are rightly a priority for the FBI: fraudulent schemes that victimize the vulnerable and enrich the unscrupulous.”
As alleged in the indictment unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court:
Beginning in March 2006, ABAKPORO, a lawyer with an office in Brooklyn, New York, and PIERCE, who worked for ABAKPORO, cultivated a relationship with an elderly woman (“the Victim”) who owned a residential apartment building worth millions of dollars located at 1070 St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem (the “Property”). As part of the fraud scheme, ABAKPORO and PIERCE earned the Victim’s trust by, among other things, offering to help her manage the Property. This included collecting rent from its tenants on her behalf. However, instead of providing the Victim with the renters’ money, ABAKPORO and PIERCE pocketed it.
ABAKPORO and PIERCE then convinced the Victim to sell her property to them for $3.1 million. While they contracted to buy the property for that amount, at the closing, they presented the Victim with multiple fake and fraudulent checks to make it appear as if they had paid the contracted sale amount, when in fact they had not. Moreover, after the Victim’s attorney had left the closing, ABAKPORO and PIERCE fraudulently induced her to return all of the checks to them by representing that they would safeguard her money and give her a “private mortgage” in the Property, which they explained would include monthly payments made to her based on the money she had effectively loaned them. As part of the scheme, ABAKPORO and PIERCE signed and provided the Victim with a written agreement representing that she had loaned them approximately $1.9 million and in return held a “private mortgage” in the Property. Unbeknownst to the Victim, ABAKPORO and PIERCE never recorded the private mortgage and subsequently submitted a fraudulent application to Washington Mutual Bank seeking a $1.8 mortgage loan secured by the Property. ABAKPORO and PIERCE never disclosed to the bank that the Victim already held a private mortgage on the Property. Instead, ABAKPORO and PIERCE falsely represented to the bank that they had purchased the Property for $3.1 million and owned it “free and clear.” Based on those, and other, fraudulent representations, ABAKPORO and PIERCE obtained a $1.8 million mortgage loan from the bank, which they failed to repay.
As a result of the alleged fraud, the defendants obtained substantially all of the Victim’s assets, and $1.8 million in fraudulently obtained mortgage proceeds. The Property went into default.
ABAKPORO, 52, a Nigerian citizen, is a resident of Queens, and PIERCE, 43, is a resident of Brooklyn. They are each charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, and bank fraud conspiracy. The wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges each carry a maximum prison term of 20 years. The bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy charges each carry a maximum prison term of 30 years.
ABAKPORO is currently detained pending his satisfaction of court-ordered bail conditions: a $1 million bond secured by an interest in property and co-signed by three individuals. PIERCE was released on a $500,000 bond to be co-signed by three individuals and secured by two properties.
Mr. Bharara praised the New York State Attorney General’s Office investigative staff and the FBI for their excellent work on the investigation of this matter. He also thanked the New York State Department of Financial Services for its assistance.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Southern District of New York Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan Poscablo and Michael Lockard, along with Assistant Attorney General Meryl Lutsky, who has been designated a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, and Assistant Attorney General Rhonda Greenstein, are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.