Friday, October 23, 2020

Bay Area Real Estate Agent Indicted For Defrauding Homebuyers Out Of Down Payments

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A federal grand jury in Oakland indicted real estate agent Min Jin Zhao, a/k/a Michael Zhao, a/k/a Michael West, on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Special Agent in Charge Kareem Carter; and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent In Charge John F. Bennett.

According to the indictment filed May 9, 2019, and unsealed today, Zhao, 56, of San Francisco, is a real estate agent working in the Bay Area who defrauded his clients out of down payments meant for the purchase of homes in and around the Bay Area.

From 2014 through 2015, Zhao misrepresented to prospective homebuyers and investors that Portfolio Consulting, Inc., offered a loan program that would enable his clients to procure financing to make all-cash offers on real property.

Zhao told his victims that, as part of the loan program, they had to wire, transfer, or deposit 10% to 20% of the sale price of the real property they sought to purchase into Portfolio’s bank account.

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According to the indictment, Zhao told his clients that once they delivered their funds to Portfolio, the company then would provide the remaining portion of the purchase price.

In reality, however, after Zhao’s victims deposited their funds into Portfolio’s account, Zhao either spent the funds or transferred the funds to another bank account in Portfolio’s name.

Further, Zhao used the funds to make purchases unrelated to the purchase of real property for the victims, including for purchases for Zhao’s benefit and the benefit of businesses he controlled.

In sum, Zhao is charged with three counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; two counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; and one count of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957.

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Zhao was arrested in San Francisco on July 2, 2019, and made his initial federal court appearance this morning in Oakland. Zhao is currently out on bond.

His next scheduled appearance is on September 11, 2019, at 10:30 a.m., for an initial appearance before the Honorable James Donato, U.S. District Judge.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, Zhao faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each violation of wire and mail fraud, as well as 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for the money laundering count.

However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose Apolinar Olivera is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Jessica Rodriguez Gonzalez and Katie Turner. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the IRS-CI and the FBI.

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