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Posted Saturday, April 14, 2007
                     
It's a federal case: U.S. takes on alleged mortgage fraud
                   
By Jerry Kronenberg

A crackdown on alleged mortgage scams is heating up, with federal officials taking over prosecution of an alleged Hub fraud ring that previously faced only state charges.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan’s office declined to say why the feds took over the case against Carmella Lessegue of Hyde Park, Andre Lamerique of Sharon and Judy Bonas of New York.

Spokeswoman Samantha Martin said she couldn’t reveal details of the move, citing an “ongoing investigation.”

State officials arrested the trio in January after the three allegedly tried to swindle a former nun out of her Dorchester home.

As the Herald first reported in January, authorities allege the ring initially stole former nun Judy Melody’s identity and used it to buy homes in Halifax and Brockton in her name.

Prosecutors claim Bonas, who is black, used a fake driver’s license to identify herself at the Brockton home’s sale closing as Melody, who is white.

But the alleged scheme began to unravel when a lender who underwrote the mortgage for the Brockton deal happened to call the real Melody.

Authorities began investigating and subsequently learned the trio allegedly planned to sell Melody’s Dorchester home out from under her, pocketing $422,000 in mortgage money.

However, an undercover officer posing as a real estate lawyer conducted that sale’s “closing,” where Bonas allegedly presented herself as Melody and Lessegue as a buyer. Prosecutors say Lamerique - who reputedly helped set up mortgages for the deal - waited in a getaway car.

Suffolk County officials originally charged the three with state identity-theft and “uttering” (check-forgery) charges.

But officials dropped all local counts to clear the way for a federal prosecution, with the Justice Department announcing federal conspiracy and identity-theft charges against the three yesterday.

If convicted on the new counts, the suspects could each face $500,000 fines and up to 20 years in federal prison.

If you have a tip on a mortgage scam, contact Jerry Kronenberg at jkronenberg@bostonherald.com.

Copyright by the Boston Herald and Herald Media. Reprinted from The Boston Herald of Saturday, April 14, 2007.

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