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The Art Deco district of Miami Beach.

  • A couple used the empty Florida mansions of top Venezuelan officials to defraud banks.
  • Carlos Castañeda and Genesis Martusciello obtained mortgages worth $10M, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • They borrowed against the homes and had the funds wired to bank accounts they controlled. 

A couple used the empty Florida mansions of top Venezuelan officials to defraud banks of almost $10 million, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Carlos Castañeda, 35, and Genesis Martusciello, 29, became rich through one of the "boldest real-estate" frauds the US has ever seen, according to Florida real-estate attorneys interviewed by the newspaper.

The Journal reviewed hundreds of court and US Secret Service documents, police reports and emails, and interviews with dozens of people with knowledge of the operation including law-enforcement officials. 

The couple fled Venezuela during the country's economic crisis in the 2010s and moved in Miami.

The Trump administration had sanctioned or indicted top Venezuelan officials and associates in 2019, which gave Castañed the idea of targeting mansions and penthouses in Miami owned by Venezuela's elite. 

With the help of fake passports, Castañeda and Martusciello, as well as their accomplices, impersonated four property owners. They then got banks to lend them almost $10 million against the homes and had the money wired to bank accounts they controlled. 

According to the Journal, they lived in the victims' home and spent their windfalls on jewelry and watches, including a $180,000 Rafael Nadal-branded Richard Mille watch. They also stole some of their victims' luxury cars, including a Ferrari, Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

David Haber, a South Florida attorney who represents property owners who believe they were defrauded, told the newspaper it was not the first example of such a scam.

However, when he contacted authorities, "the answer is always the same: we don't have enough resources for this stuff," he told the Journal.

In March 2020, one of the co-conspirators, Katherine Hansen, was arrested at a TD Bank branch in Miami while trying to transfer money using a fake Venezuelan passport. It led to the arrest of Castañeda and Martusciello two months later.

Both Castañeda and Martusciello are in prison, as well as six co-conspirators. They are all serving sentences ranging from 28 months to 6 and a half years after pleading guilty to identity theft and bank and wire fraud.

Authorities are still investigating others who may have ties to the scheme, according to the report.

Jonnathan Gonzales, who pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, told the Journal from prison: "There is a saying that the thief who steals from a thief has 100 years of forgiveness." 

Read the original article on Business Insider



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