Repeat fraudster pleads guilty to duping FHA

A North Providence, Rhode Island woman pleaded guilty to falsifying information to get a Federal Housing Administration-backed loan and for theft of government property totaling over $40,000, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

According to the DOJ, Juliana Martins, who was on federal supervised release for a previous scheme, left out a key detail of her employment history, which helped her and a co-borrower qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage in the amount of $265,109.

Rather than a family emergency, as she claimed on her loan application, Martins was out of a job because she was serving a federal prison sentence for a 2013 scheme to steal the identities of about 40 people in Puerto Rico, and reap federal tax checks totaling more than $277,300.

She also failed to mention she owed the federal government $385,533 in restitution while applying for the loan.

Additionally, Martins admitted to fraudulently applying in July 2020 for a COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). At the time, she falsely claimed that she was an independent contractor in the health service business and that her business had been impacted by the pandemic.

Martins also applied for unemployment insurance benefits under both the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, while she was in fact employed as an office manager in April 2020, the department noted.

In total, Martins received over $40,000 in COVID relief benefits, the DOJ said.

The DOJ did not specify the timeline of when Martins applied for the FHA loan nor any information about the co-borrower. Martins is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4, 2022.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development‘s Office of Inspector General, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Rhode Island State Police led the investigation, the DOJ said.

There has been greater scrutiny of COVID-19 related fraud as more cases come to light of individuals who applied for government assistance they were not entitled to. The Federal Trade Commission reported a 3000% increase in reports of identity theft involving public benefits from 2019 to 2020, the White House said in a press release published this week.

The Biden administration has made an effort to curb pandemic-related fraud. On May 17, 2021, the U.S. Attorney General announced the creation of a COVID-19 fraud enforcement task force, whose sole purpose is to bolster efforts to investigate and prosecute criminal actors.

Those efforts got a boost this week. President Biden announced during his state of the union address that a chief prosecutor will be appointed to lead a group of specialized prosecutors and agents focused on major targets of pandemic fraud.  

Additionally, the White House plans to provide more resources for the DOJ task force to expand prosecution of egregious pandemic fraud.

In a press release published on the White House’s website, the administration said that the task force teams will use state of the art data analytics tools to connect the dots on identity theft and other complex fraud schemes committed across state lines.

The task force will also investigate major cases of criminal fraud in programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Unemployment Insurance.

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