Miami Man Spent 10 Months in Jail After Childhood Friend Set Him Up for Mortgage Fraud

October 19, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a Florida mortgage fraud defense attorney, I was disappointed to read about a wrongful mortgage fraud prosecution that ate nearly a year of one man’s life. The New Times Miami reported Oct. 17 on the case of Ivanhoe Smester, who committed no mortgage fraud but had the bad luck to be friends with someone who had. Smester’s friend, Julio Llanessa, and Llanessa’s girlfriend, Laura Fernandez, had forged his name (misspelled as “Semester”) on a check cashed shortly before they fled the country. On that basis, federal marshals concluded that Smester knew where they were hiding. He did not, but he spent 10 months in jail on charges of bank and wire fraud before he was able to convince prosecutors. Llanessa and Fernandez are still at large.

Smester had never bought a home in the United States or worked in the mortgage industry. He grew up with Llanessa in the Dominican Republic, but the two hadn’t spoken in more than a year. Smester knew that Llanessa had been arrested for mortgage fraud, but didn’t know that Llanessa and Fernandez had jumped their bail and left the country. So he was surprised to get a March 2010 call from federal agents demanding to know where Llanessa was hiding. Soon, agents began harassing his family, calling his father in the Dominican Republic and showing up at his mother-in-law’s home in the U.S. In late April of 2010, he voluntarily turned himself in, only to be charged with fraud related to more than 10 Florida properties. He was also threatened with deportation away from his American wife and one-year-old son. His Miami mortgage fraud defense lawyer said prosecutors were simply “fishing” for information, and indicted him on very little evidence in an attempt to make him disclose Llanessa’s whereabouts. Of course, Smester didn’t know where Llanessa was — but it was only in February of 2011 that a judge dismissed the charges.

This story is familiar to me as a Fort Lauderdale mortgage fraud defense attorney, because variations on it happen more than we’d like to think. Sometimes, prosecutors make up their minds about a piece of evidence or a person, and refused to acknowledge evidence to the contrary until it’s unavoidable. This may be a natural human tendency — but in this case, it could have cost Smester’s life as he knew it. As it was, he spent 10 months in jail, faced unfounded criminal charges, missed a crucial time in his young son’s life and spent untold dollars defending himself from someone else’s mistake. The article doesn’t discuss how his lawyer helped him, but in general, the advice of an experienced attorney is crucial in cases like this. For example, Smester may not have needed to turn himself in; he certainly could have had a lawyer present at questioning.

If you’re facing similar mortgage fraud charges, don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. Based in Miami, we represent clients across Florida who are accused of mortgage fraud and related crimes. And because we know arrests don’t stop after business hours, we’re available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. For a free consultation, call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.

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