A New Jersey lawyer who once teamed up with police in a sting to snare a client trying to commit mortgage fraud now stands criminally charged for similar offenses.
Newark solo Stephanie Hand was indicted by a state grand jury on Thursday, along with two others, on charges they conspired to steal almost $874,000 by using phony identities to obtain mortgage loans, filed bogus documents and diverted the proceeds.
Hand allegedly acted as the attorney and settlement agent at the two closings and filed HUD statements falsely indicating the buyers had made the required payments and the loan proceeds were properly disbursed.
She is charged with second-degree counts of conspiracy, money laundering and theft by deception, which each carry a five- to 10-year sentence and a fine of up to $150,000.
The same charges were lodged against two nonlawyers indicted with her: Julio Concepcion of Passaic and Thomas D’Anna of Saddle Brook.
The indictment describes a scheme that played out between January and April 2009, in which loans were obtained on fake sales of properties owned by D’Anna in Garfield and Newark in the names of two Puerto Rico residents whose identities had been stolen.
The lender, identified as “S.T.M.I.,” made $873,520 in loans—$415,865 for the Garfield property and $457,655 for the one in Newark.
Only a few monthly payments were allegedly made on the loans.
The rest of the money was used to pay off existing mortgages on the properties, with an additional $100,000-plus going to D’Anna and $158,900 to companies owned by Concepcion, according to the indictment.
How much Hand was paid for her role is not stated, and Division of Criminal Justice spokesman Peter Aseltine says he cannot comment on that question.
The investigation by the Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau, which led to the indictment, stemmed from information developed in another case, on which Aseltine declined to comment.
Hand’s defense counsel, Thomas Ashley of Newark, says “she was not aware that there was any type of impropriety” and “asserts her innocence.”
The indictment was handed up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez Jr., who sent the case to Essex County, where Hand will be arraigned. The prosecutor assigned is Deputy Attorney General Jillian Carpenter.
Hand has not been arrested but will be summoned to appear in court for an as-yet unscheduled arraignment at which she will have an opportunity to post bail. Jimenez set the amount at $75,000, with a 10 percent cash deposit.
In a news release announcing the charges, acting Attorney General John Hoffman remarked, “It is particularly troubling that an attorney—a person who took an oath to uphold the law— is charged with conspiring in this type of scheme.”
Hand was once on the side of a law enforcement bust of a mortgage-fraud scheme.
In 2005, she was retained by a man calling himself Prince Jones Jr. who said he needed help in securing a mortgage to buy a multi-family home in Newark from a friend, Zenon Molina, who selling because she faced foreclosure.
Among the things that raised red flags and led Hand to contact the police were Jones’ reluctance to come to her office, his stated intent to contact a title company and surveyor himself, his use of a photocopied driver’s license and suspicious-looking work ID, and a title report that showed no foreclosure.
He even asked Hand to represent the seller, too, at closing, which she declined to do.
When Jones and Molina showed up at Hand’s office to pick up the loan proceeds, they were arrested.
Jones, whose real name was Artis Hunter, pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was sentenced to five years. Molina, actually Robin Starr, got four years’ probation on her plea to impersonation.
Hand, admitted to practice since 2000, was admonished in a separate matter in September 2010 for failing to act diligently for her client—who was buying real estate from a bankrupt seller—by not ascertaining whether the bankruptcy court had approved the sale and not turning over sale proceeds to the bankruptcy trustee. •