Banker pleads guilty to bribery charges

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A banker who sold mortgages on behalf of GMAC pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Thursday to receiving more than $1 million in bribe payments while working on GMAC’s behalf, using his position and influence to ensure his customers won their bids to purchase mortgage notes.

Robert Moreno, 42, of Tempe, Ariz., faces a maximum of five years in prison when sentenced Jan. 19. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank bribery and tax evasion.

Prosecutors said Moreno took the bulk of the bribe payments from San Diego businessman Israel Hechter, who pleaded guilty in September and admitted paying $1 million in bribes to Moreno and others.

Moreno also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from another customer based in Woodland Hills.

According to prosecutors, Moreno initially accepted the bribes in cash and personal checks, so that he could conceal the payments from the IRS and avoid paying taxes on the illegal income.

Several times in 2012, Hechter’s father, Zeev Hechter, met Moreno in New York City at a car wash he owned, where he delivered “laundered” cash payments totaling $330,000, prosecutors said.

Moreno traveled around the country, to places including Las Vegas, New York City and Scottsdale, Ariz., arranging hand-to-hand cash deliveries of the bribes from Zeev Hechter and others. Moreno also accepted personal checks from Israel’s brother, Amir Hechter, and their business associate, Jack Prober.

Moreno and Israel Hechter later set up a sham “consulting agreement” and a phony consulting business, Phoenix Asset & Acquisition, Inc., to disguise the bribes and make them look like legitimate consulting fees unrelated to Moreno’s work with GMAC, prosecutors said.

Moreno then copied the sham contract and used it with other customers who paid him bribes, all to cover up the payments. Moreno took in more than $500,000 under the bogus contracts, prosecutors said.

Israel Hector, owner of San Diego-based mortgage investment firms Ocean 18, LLC, and Note Tracker Corp., admitted as part of his guilty plea that he paid $1 million in bribes to Moreno and other bank insiders at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and National City Bank.

In order to make sure that Israel Hechter’s bids were accepted, the bankers, including Moreno, corrupted the process by altering bids, rejecting other bids and erasing or ignoring bids from qualified competitors.

Prosecutors said the bankers also rigged the bidding by supplying Israel Hechter with confidential information about prices and competing bids.

The mortgages Moreno sold on behalf of GMAC were mostly non-performing or distressed second mortgages, authorities said.

After purchase, Israel Hechter pooled the loans and sold shares of the pools to investors, usually friends and family members including Zeev Hechter, Amir Hechter and Prober, each of whom invested in the pools.

After purchase, Ocean 18 would service the loans and collect monthly payments from the borrowers, or would initiate foreclosure proceedings when the borrowers defaulted. The investors made money when the borrowers made payments, sold the properties or after foreclosure and re-sale.

Israel Hechter, Amir Hechter, Zeev Hechter and Prober each pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 5.

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