Florida couple arrested for running multi-million dollar property scam in Miami

Florida man, 35, and woman, 29, are arrested for ‘running $10 MILLION property scam in Miami that involved posing as owners of properties that actually belonged to Venezuelans banned from doing business under US sanctions

  • The group of fraudsters included at least six additional co-conspirators now serving between two-and-a-half and six-and-a-half years in prison
  • The opulent homes targeted by the group are owned by elite Venezuelans who were sanctioned during the Trump administration over a number of misdeeds
  • The schemers were able to convince local lenders that they owned the houses and took out multi-million dollar mortgages against them

A Venezuelan couple that immigrated to America about a decade ago ran an aggressive multi-million dollar real estate scheme in which they posed as powerful Venezuelan regime-members banned by the Trump administration from America and assumed control of their lavish properties.

The fraudsters, using fake passports and drivers licenses, posed as the property owners of four luxury properties in the Miami area and took out loans against the luxury real estate, which they used to live the high end lifestyles of their victims.

The properties were owned by Venezuelan regime-members who were sanctioned and barred from entering the US during the Trump years and largely had their assets frozen so that they were unable to check in on or access their Miami residences. 

The properties included two luxury condos at the Oceana Bal Harbour, where the average home from is $5.9 million, a condo at the Mei Miami, where a modest 2-bedroom goes for $1.3 million and an 11,000 square foot Pinecrest mansion that sold for $5.3 million in 2016. 

A $5.3 million Pinecrest Miami mansion owned by alleged narcotics trafficker Samark Lopez Bello that the schemers targeted in their criminal conspiracy

A $5.3 million Pinecrest Miami mansion owned by alleged narcotics trafficker Samark Lopez Bello that the schemers targeted in their criminal conspiracy

Bello also owns an apartment at the Four Seasons Residences in Brickell, which the fraudsters squatted in for a time

Bello also owns an apartment at the Four Seasons Residences in Brickell, which the fraudsters squatted in for a time

A picture of criminal ringleader Carlos Castañeda with his mother

A picture of criminal ringleader Carlos Castañeda with his mother

Ringleader Carlos Rafael Castañeda Mendez, 35, recruited fellow Venezuelan migrants to get in on the fraudulent scheme with him, including his romantic interest Genesis Martusciello, 29, and six others.

The schemers figured that if the Venezuelan officials, who included a businessman and a minion of dictatorial Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s, were no longer able to travel to the US to watch over their luxury properties, they were up for the taking.

Using fake passports and drivers licenses, Castañeda and his associates successfully impersonated four of the owners of the luxury properties and convinced lenders to provide them with close to $10 million in mortgages on homes they did not own.

They subsequently borrowed money against the homes and wired the money to their banks accounts.

The criminals used the cash to purchase expensive watches, high end jewelry and trips to Vegas.

For some of the duration of the scheme, the perpetrators even lived in the opulent homes of wealthy owners and used their cars, including a Ferrari, Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

According to the Wall Street Journal‘s report of the incident, Florida real estate attorneys called the con ‘one of the boldest real-estate frauds the U.S. has ever seen.’

The criminals cleverly took advantage of a facet of the state’s booming real-estate market called ‘hard-money lending,’ which often times requires just a license or a passport with a name matching a property deed to gain access to a loan or mortgage.

The eight fraudsters are now in prison, facing sentences that range from just over two years, to six-and-a-half years.

Law enforcement officers continue to investigation individuals they believe were involved with the scheme, which lasted from May 2019 to May 2020.

Members of the Venezuelan elite own some of the most luxurious real estate in the Miami area

Members of the Venezuelan elite own some of the most luxurious real estate in the Miami area

Castañeda was sentenced to 78 months behind bars for his part in orchestrating the aggressive real estate scheme

Castañeda was sentenced to 78 months behind bars for his part in orchestrating the aggressive real estate scheme

After targeting the two luxury Oceana condos owned by former Venezuelan state oil executive Luis Carlos de Leon-Perez, the thieves turned toward businessman Samark Lopez Bello’s six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath stucco mansion.

Leon-Perez was indicted in 2017 on corruption charges in the US and pleaded guilty in 2018.

Lopez Bello was accused by the US Treasury Department in 2017 of involvement in a narcotics trafficking and money-laundering scheme involving a former vice president of Venezuela. He was sanctioned and his assets were frozen by the US, and was later added to the most-wanted list by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Bello has denied the accusations.

Bello’s Pinecrest mansion was not on the public list of his frozen assets because it is owned by a limited liability company registered in his daughter’s name, which meant it could be mortgaged.

In a statement to the Journal, Bello said he was disappointed that this crime was able to occur in the US.

‘When I decided to invest in real estate in the United States, I believed the States was the safest place in the world. “However, the lack of security and safety that allowed these criminals to invade my privacy, steal my vehicles, burglar my property, mortgage my properties and steal my daughter’s identity, have proved me wrong,’ he said.

The schemers, who fled the economically oppressive Venezuelan regime, felt as though stealing from the cronies that helped shape the foreign government was righteous vengeance more so than crimes against truly innocent people.

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