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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Three St. Louis Real Estate Brokers Indicted for Defrauding Hispanic Immigrants

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Attorneys Gustavo Arango (left) and Ken Schmitt (seated) brought the scheme to light in 2006.
  • Attorneys Gustavo Arango (left) and Ken Schmitt (seated) brought the scheme to light in 2006.
A trio of former real-estate agents were indicted last week for mail fraud on charges that they falsified tax records to inflate the income of their clients, allowing home buyers to purchase property they could not otherwise afford. 

The agents -- Joseph Adewunmi, Christian Joel Juan and Patricia Denisse Olmos -- targeted the scam on Hispanic immigrants with little understanding of English or real-estate finance. Juan and Olmos -- fluent Spanish speakers -- would shuttle the clients through the transaction.

Unbeknownst to the clients was that Adewunmi, working as broker with RE/MAX, also owned many of the homes sold to them through a separate company he had called Cots Realty. Those homes were often sold for values much higher than their actual worth -- allowing Adewunmi to profit on both the actual sale of the home and a commission for his role as the buyer's agent.

Riverfront Times first chronicled the scheme nearly four years ago in a feature story, "Mi Casa, Sue Casa." At that time, Adewunmi -- himself an immigrant from Nigeria -- defended his business practices despite a civil suit filed accusing him of real estate fraud.
"as an="" myself,="" primary="" clients="" other="" immigrant="" groups="" hispanics,="" arabs,="" bosnians="" --="" are="" underserved="" market,="" said="" adewunmi.="" way="" things="" have="" been="" put="" [in="" the="" lawsuit]="" hurts="" feelings="" because="" everything="" i="" ve="" done="" in="" my="" real="" estate="" career="" so="" far="" try="" to="" make="" sure="" these="" don="" t="" taken="" advantage="" of.="" this="" suit="" is="" coming="" from="" people="" who="" think="" they="" can="" blackmail="" me="" and="" get="" money="" out="" of="" me.="">
This past March the Missouri Real Estate Commission revoked the licenses of Adewunmi, Juan and Olmos after reaching a settlement agreement in which the agents acknowledged that they altered tax records for their clients without the clients' knowledge. In many cases the agents would make up bogus companies and enter false pay stubs in order to secure financing to complete the sale.

The scam was brought to light by St. Louis immigration attorney Ken Schmitt and Gustavo Arango in 2006 after receiving complaints from members of the local Hispanic community who said they were told their mortgages would be much smaller than they were. Schmitt and Arango currently represent eight alleged victims in a civil suit that's finally scheduled to go to trial this September.

Reached by phone today, Schmitt tells Daily RFT that he and his clients are cautiously optimistic about the indictment.

"It certainly doesn't hurt our case and would make a good statement should they be convicted or plea guilty," he says.

Still, Schmitt fears that his clients -- some of whom have been foreclosed upon or taken on second jobs in an attempt to keep their overpriced homes -- may never be financially compensated for the alleged wrongdoing.

"It remains to be seen what became -- or remains -- of the money involved in these transactions," says Schmitt. 

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