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Real Estate Fraud

After the 2008 housing crisis, many sellers looked for someone to blame for their financial losses and mistakenly accused real estate agents and brokers of fraudulent behavior. These types of accusations can have serious repercussions, including a criminal trial, possible conviction, and irreparable damage to the accused’s professional reputation, so if you are being investigated for or have been accused of committing an act of real estate fraud, it is vital to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explain your legal options.

Fraud Basics

Florida law defines fraud as any systematic course of conduct where a person has:

  • The intent to defraud one or more persons; or
  • The intent to obtain property by false pretenses or representations.

Because real estate fraud is a general term that is used to describe a variety of fraudulent tactics, any of the following activities could constitute real estate fraud:

  • Using elevated appraisals to inflate a property’s selling price;
  • Double selling;
  • Committing identity theft or forging deeds and legal documents in order to transfer title;
  • Presenting fraudulent buyer qualifications, which includes making false statements about employment history, assets, or income;
  • Providing a lender with a false settlement statement;
  • Laundering money through a property;
  • Failing to disclose financial liabilities; and
  • Using another individual’s identifying information to obtain a loan.

Because real estate fraud encompasses so many different activities, it could involve a number of different individuals, including:

  • Agents;
  • Brokers;
  • Lenders;
  • Escrow officers;
  • Buyers; and
  • Appraisers.

Criminal Penalties

Depending on the circumstances of the case, real estate fraud can be charged under both state and federal law. For instance, if an agent is accused of fraudulent activity, he or she may be charged under the mail fraud statute for sending fraudulent documents through the mail. Providing false information on a loan application could lead to a 30 year prison sentence and a $1,000,000 fine, while Fraudulent use of title records is punishable by an additional five years in prison. An accused real estate professional can also be charged under Florida law. In these cases, the severity of the charge depends on the amount of money that was allegedly fraudulently obtained. For example, if the property obtained is valued at more than $50,000, the accused can be charged with a first degree felony, which is punishable by a 30 year prison sentence.

Administrative Penalties

Florida law also grants the Florida Real Estate Commission the right to take additional actions against brokers and agents accused of fraud, including:

  • Probation;
  • License suspension;
  • License revocation; and
  • A $5,000 fine for each offense.

Contact an Experienced South Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

The penalties for real estate fraud are extremely severe, which makes it especially important for real estate professionals who are being accused of fraudulent activity to obtain the advice of an experienced attorney as soon as possible. If you live in south Florida and have been charged with a real estate fraud-related offense, please contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. Criminal Defense Attorneys at 305-670-9919 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated attorney.

Resource:

leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0800-0899/0817/Sections/0817.034.html

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