Former ICE agent pleads guilty to fraud in GSE, SunTrust short sale

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A special agent who used to work for an investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement pleaded guilty to defrauding Freddie Mac and SunTrust Mortgage through a short sale.

The former Homeland Security Investigations agent, Shauna Kay N. Sutherland of Corpus Christi, Texas, admitted in a plea agreement that she allowed a short sale of her property in Gainesville, Ga., to a family friend who was a straw buyer.

"Sutherland falsely represented that there were no hidden agreements and requested forgiveness of over $40,000 owned on the mortgage due to her purported financial hardship," according to a Department of Justice press release. "Based on those material representations, SunTrust Mortgage and Freddie Mac accepted the short sale offer, with the family friend 'purchasing' the property for approximately $34,000, in exchange for SunTrust Mortgage and Freddie Mac releasing Sutherland from her outstanding debt."

But Sutherland secretly used funds wired to her by her mother to fund the family friend's purchase of the short sale, collected rents from the property, paid for maintenance, and eventually sold the property to buy another piece of real estate in Florida, all in the straw buyer's name.

Freddie Mac calculated a total loss of $42,000 from the transaction.

Sutherland pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. of the Southern District of Florida, and faces sentencing in June.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, and ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility all investigated the case. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility also assisted in the investigation.

In general, distressed home sales — including real estate owned sales, third-party foreclosure auction sales and short sales — accounted for 14.7% of all single-family home and condo sales in the first quarter, up from 13.6% in the fourth quarter of 2017 but still down from 16.9% for the first quarter of 2017, according to Attom Data Solutions.

SunTrust Mortgage's corporate parent also recently uncovered a separate data breach by a former employee. There were no immediate signs of fraud related to that incident.

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Mortgage fraud Enforcement Short sales GSEs Distressed Freddie Mac SunTrust Georgia