Guyanese Ed Ahmad: US mortgage scams just not cricket
US mortgage scams just not cricket
Mathew Murphy January 14, 2012
Ahmad is free on $US2.5 million bail as he attempts to broker a plea agreement with the FBI.
ANYONE who has ever lived in a foreign city will know the certain vulnerability you feel when you arrive. Even if you are fortunate enough to speak the language, it is easy to feel unsure about yourself and your actions as you try to adjust to a different way of doing things. Navigating your way through everything from visiting a doctor to buying a house will be a little bit more challenging than it would be at home.
Perhaps it is because your columnist is a foreigner living abroad that the alleged actions of Edul Ahmad seem that much more repugnant. Or perhaps it is just as repugnant to anyone with a conscience.
Ahmad, an immigrant from Guyana on the northern coast of South America, is under FBI investigation for his part in a $US50 million mortgage scam.
It is a far-reaching case that has enveloped elected members of state and federal parliaments and even the US cricket team (yes, the US has a cricket team).
Mortgage scams are nothing new, but Ahmad’s victims are mostly from the Guyanese community in New York. Members of the community say that is what hurts the most. Ahmad was one of them, someone they thought they could trust. Potentially hundreds of people are facing financial ruin.
The New York Times has shown quality journalism is alive and well through its reporting of the Ahmad case since it came to light more than six months ago.
The paper said Ahmad personified the collective aspirations of Richmond Hill in Queens and its largely migrant community.
”Mr Ahmad drove a yellow Lamborghini, sponsored a cricket team and held white-glove parties at a lavish banquet hall that he owned,” according to the Times this week. ”At a prominent intersection … his smiling face looked down from a large billboard that promoted his real estate services. Many residents responded, taking out high-risk mortgages that they were told they could readily afford.”
The scam was relatively basic. Ahmad would allegedly lure buyers into subprime mortgages, inflating their value by using ”straw buyers”, or stand-in buyers, such as his wife, so the scam wasn’t directly linked to him.
He then pushed his clients to close the deal within a week using his lawyer, his appraiser and his mortgage officer. They would finance about 95 per cent of the home at about 12.5 per cent interest, which makes it easy to understand why so many are in trouble.
All the while Ahmad, said to be worth upwards of $US20 million, concentrated on keeping up appearances. He donated $US40,000 to Queens Democrat congressman Gregory Meeks, a donation that brought Meeks before the House ethics panel for a failure to disclose. Ahmad also worked as an lawyer for John Sampson, the Democratic leader of the New York Senate. Sampson was censured, or politically shamed by the House, for notarising a document for Ahmad without a licensee.
The US cricket team has also become embroiled in the scandal. It has lost its Guyanese-born captain, Steve Massiah, who was arrested in November for acting as one of Ahmad’s fake buyers.
Ahmad is free on $US2.5 million bail as he attempts to broker a plea agreement with the FBI to limit the 30 years he could face in prison for the 10 counts of bank fraud he is said to have committed.
It is little comfort to residents of Queens, which has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the US in terms of foreclosures.
The Times said the five worst-affected postcodes in Queens were within a 15-minute drive of Ahmad’s office.
It is hardly a coincidence that Ahmad controlled about 75 per cent of local real estate listings.
On being shown their mortgage documents by the FBI following Ahmad’s arrest, many of his clients were unable to recognise them and some were even unable to spell their names.
In speaking with Ahmad’s clients, the Times quoted some saying they had contemplated suicide while others were afraid of speaking publicly, fearing Ahmad’s powerful connections. Even after his political embarrassment, the office of John Sampson says the New York state senator and Ahmad ”remain friends”.
While Ahmad is undoubtedly cunning, he is not the only one to see an opportunity in the US mortgage market to get ahead at the expense of others.
In September, a Bolivian-born woman became the third member of her family in San Francisco to be charged with defrauding Latino immigrants through multimillion-dollar mortgage schemes.
In Los Angeles, the Thai community experienced the same scam by a loan officer who has since fled to Thailand.
Government and regulators have copped the brunt of the blame for presiding over a system that allowed opportunists like Ahmad and others to conduct the scams.
However, there is surely a special kind of hell for those who understand all too well the vulnerabilities of others and exploit them for their own gain.
The Ahmad case and others like it are important because they raise awareness within communities, whether they are migrant or not, to seek wide-ranging advice when it comes to purchasing large assets.