An eight-count indictment was recently unsealed in federal court, charging 40-year-old Marat Lerner with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
Lerner is president of the Lerner Group, a business that claims to provide debt relief services and mortgage modifications.
“The defendant preyed on immigrants burdened by mortgage debt in the Russian community in Brooklyn, stealing their American dream through a scheme built on false promises to help them keep their homes, but in truth, he took advantage of their trust to enrich himself,” said Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York.
Peace and Michael Driscoll, assistant director-in-charge for the FBI’s New York field office announced the arrest and charges on Jan. 18.
A grand jury returned the eight-count indictment on Jan. 10. The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
In total, the indictment indicates that Lerner misappropriated at least $550,000 from clients of the Lerner Group.
As a result of the fraud, many of the victim's mortgage banks initiated foreclosure proceedings. One victim was forced to declare bankruptcy twice and another lost her home.
The stolen funds were allegedly spent on various personal expenses, including luxury goods, expensive meals and a BMW automobile.
“The defendant, as we allege today, funded his own lavish lifestyle by operating a lengthy scam exploiting his victims' trust and fears in order to steal their money rather than fulfill his promise to modify their mortgages,” Driscoll said.
The indictment alleges that, approximately between August 2016 and January 2021, Lerner and others operated the Lerner Group.
The Lerner Group promised clients it could help them modify their mortgages by reducing their monthly mortgage payments and outstanding mortgage balances.
Lerner used his access to his clients’ banking information to create checks that appeared to be monthly mortgage payments to a purported escrow agent called Testoni & Villa and to his clients’ mortgage banks. However, Lerner secretly controlled Testoni & Villa.
Instead of holding the money in escrow or transferring it to the mortgage banks, Lerner deposited the checks in an account he controlled.
The defendant and his co-conspirators created fraudulent documents from Testoni & Villa to conceal the fraud.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the NYC Police Department assisted with the indictment. The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Section. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick M. Axelrod is in charge of the prosecution.
Significant evidence of Lerner’s fraud has been obtained, including documents, correspondence, a consensual recording, bank records, mortgage files and business incorporation documents.
If convicted, Lerner faces up to 20 years in prison.
According to a detention letter from the U.S. Department of Justice addressed to Judge James Cho dated Jan. 18, the department is requesting the defendant only be released on bail with strict conditions and after posting a substantial bond.
“The FBI will continue to make sure any individual willing to cheat and deceive clients out of their hard-earned money will face the consequences in the criminal justice system. We urge any additional victims of Mr. Lerner’s scheme to contact us,” Driscoll said.