Pair sentenced in Miami federal court for Florida real estate fraud scheme

Two South Florida residents have been sentenced to decades behind bars in connection with a real estate fraud scheme that swindled 1,000 victims out of more than $10 million, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Miami field office.

As our South Florida real estate fraud attorneys reported recently on our Miami Criminal Attorney Blog, Florida has become the mortgage fraud capital of the nation. While most real estate fraud charges involve houses, the defendants in this case are accused of fraud in connection with vacant property, primarily in north Florida and Georgia.

The lengthy prison sentences on federal mail fraud charges in this case illustrate the serious penalties being faced by defendants accused of white-collar crime. The pair were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Miami to a combined total of nearly 33 years in federal prison, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

Daniel Stephen, 43 of Miramar and Patricia De Pons, 53, of Miami Shores, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Stephen was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while De Pons received more than 12 1/2 years behind bars.

Federal authorities contend that Stephen’s company, First Loan Solution, falsely represented to buyers that it owned land for sale in North Florida and Georgia and that he would retain the buyer’s deposit in escrow pending the closing of the transactions. Buyers entered into agreements to purchase land in 1-acre increments and to make 50 percent deposits in advance of the purchase.

However, Stephen and his company did not own the land and authorities allege that he diverted significant portions of the deposits to pay business expenses and for his one personal gain. Federal authorities say Stephen used the scam to entice more than 1,000 buyers.

De Pons was the administrator of the title operation at the law firm Stephen hired to serve as the closing and escrow agent, according to federal investigators. She conducted fraudulent closings on land Stephen did not own and demanded the balance of payment owed by the buyers at closing. She then sent fabricated, unrecorded warranty deeds to the buyers.

Buyers never received the land or their purchase money; victims lost an estimated $10.6 million as a result of the scam.