Scam Artists Promised Mortgage Relief, Delivered Heartbreak To Hawaii Homeowners

Mary Jane and Rey Laforteza met a man in 2013 who told them he could cut their mortgage payment and term in half.

The man, Anthony Williams, wielded handcuffs and what looked like a law enforcement badge, Mary Jane Laforteza would later testify at a federal criminal trial against him in 2020.

He called himself a “private attorney general.”

The Lafortezas were struggling to make payments and had 10 people living in their Waipahu home, she said. He said he could help and they believed him, so they signed up with his business, Mortgage Enterprise Investments.

Williams also operated a law firm called the Common Law Office of America, claiming he could provide representation to his clients. Screenshot: Common Law Office of America

It turned out their belief was misplaced. Within months of paying Williams, who they thought had taken over their mortgage from their original lender, the couple received a foreclosure notice.

And later, when actual law enforcement came to evict the Lafortezas, neither Williams, nor his employees, were there.

“Nobody helped us,” Mary Jane Laforteza said, bursting into tears from the witness stand.

The Lafortezas are just two of hundreds of people who fell victim to Williams — who was convicted of mail and wire fraud by a federal jury last month — and his accomplices’ mortgage reduction fraud scheme in Hawaii.

Williams was tried and convicted at the U.S. District Court in Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Federal prosecutors say he enlisted 112 victims in the state and fraudulently obtained more than $218,000. State investigators say there could be more. The exact number of victims is difficult to ascertain because of destroyed books and ledgers.

The fraud scheme was “extensive” and “predatory,” targeting poor immigrant families who are non-native English speakers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said in federal court in February. “It preyed upon the most vulnerable.”

Williams’ reach was not limited to Hawaii. Prosecutors called him a “ringleader of a widespread, nationwide scheme to defraud homeowners and banking institutions” that spanned numerous states, including Florida, Tennessee, Arizona and California, according to their 2020 trial brief.

Williams, however, denied that he ever defrauded people. Representing himself at trial, he said federal prosecutors haven’t proven that he committed mail and wire fraud. His court-appointed standby attorney, Lars Isaacson, declined to comment.

“Their argument is baseless,” Williams said in court in response to Sorenson’s assertion that he targeted vulnerable people.

In a motion for acquittal, he wrote that he only sought to “protect homeowners from foreclosure and to expose the fraud that had been perpetrated upon them by the banks, the FBI and the courts.”

He sought to do so through Mortgage Enterprise Investments and another business that he ran — Common Law Office of America, through which he acted as a “private attorney general” and provided legal representation.

But he was not a licensed attorney in Hawaii, or in any other state.

He was abiding by his own laws, based on what’s called the sovereign citizen movement, which the Federal Bureau of Investigations classifies as a form of domestic terrorism. Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as a movement whose participants don’t believe laws apply to them, or that they have to pay taxes.

Williams carried an identification card that identified him as a “private attorney general.” Screenshot: WSVN

Williams’ associates have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, including his mother, Barbara Williams, who helped him operate a bank account in Killeen, Texas. The mother pleaded guilty to failure to report commission of wire fraud.

Two others — Hawaii-based Filipino immigrants Anabel Cabebe and Henry Malinay — both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in their respective cases.

Victims of Williams’ scheme themselves, they turned on their own community and helped Williams recruit other Ilocano-speaking immigrants as clients for Mortgage Enterprise Investments.

And when Williams was extradited to another state and incarcerated, Cabebe, Malinay and others set up their own copycat company, using a nearly identical name, to continue to carry out the fraud scheme.

The mortgage crisis of 2008 produced many novel legal theories concocted by people offering to help reduce mortgage payments, said Stephen Levins, the state’s director of the Office of Consumer Protection. Mortgage Enterprise Investments was one scheme trying to make money from distressed homeowners.

“Going to someone who’s promising you the moon and has a track record of not being able to fulfill those promises and is asking you for a lot of money up front raises a lot of red flags,” he said.

The Scam

Williams and his associates conned people into believing their mortgage payments could be reduced by filing bogus financing statements and mortgages with state authorities, federal and state investigations show.

The Lafortezas had a $520,000 mortgage from Central Pacific Bank, according to court testimony from Mary Jane Laforteza and an executive of the bank.

Laforteza testified that Williams told her Mortgage Enterprise Investments, or MEI, would take it over, making the existing mortgage invalid.

“He told me we’re going to stop paying CPB,” she said. “MEI will do everything.”

94 284 Loaa Street in Waipahu.
The Lafortezas lost this Waipahu home after signing up with Williams’ sham mortgage relief scheme. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

To boost its legitimacy, the company would file fake documents, including a Uniform Commercial Code financing statement, with the Hawaii Bureau of Conveyances, claiming that the existing loan had been discharged, court filings show.

The Lafortezas, and other victims of the business, paid him a signing fee and signed several documents, including an application, power of attorney, foreclosure disclosure terms and a conditions sheet.

Believing their mortgage had been taken over, they began making reduced payments directly to Mortgage Enterprises Investments, which pocketed the money, according to the federal indictment.

Clients were told to notify Williams and his firm, the Common Law Office of America, if they got delinquency notices or legal communication from their original lenders.

The Common Law Office of America website listed Anthony Williams as a “private attorney general.” Screenshot: CLOA Website

The firm’s website is now defunct, but it used to showcase Williams as a “private attorney general” and Cabebe as the “deputy private attorney general.” Services offered by the firm included mortgage reduction, foreclosure assistance, document-writing and power of attorney.

After making about five payments to Williams’ company, Mary Jane Laforteza testified, she and her husband received a foreclosure notice from Central Pacific Bank.

Puzzled, she said they reached out to Cabebe for an explanation. They were told not to worry. But months later, the foreclosure letter had turned into an eviction notice.

Once again, Laforteza said they were told not to worry; FBI agents were coming to guard the house.

But in October 2015, when men came knocking on the door to evict them, the FBI didn’t show up.

No one did.

Above The Law

The self-proclaimed “private attorney general” carried handcuffs on his belt, along with a badge inscribed “Sovereign Peace Officer,” according to court testimony and documents.

Anthony Williams’ belt carried his sovereign peace officer badge and handcuffs. Screenshot: WSVN

He also carried an identification card claiming diplomatic immunity. It read “Do Not Detain-Do Not Arrest.”

Federal prosecutors said he used those props to persuade clients he was legitimate.

His accomplice, Cabebe, testified that Williams believed himself to be above the law. He said he didn’t need a driver’s license or a license plate.

The sovereign citizen movement empowers its followers to “decide which laws to obey and which to ignore,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Sovereigns are clogging up the courts with indecipherable filings and when cornered, many of them lash out in rage, frustration and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence, usually directed against government officials,” it states on its website.

Williams has filed numerous motions in federal and state cases citing these kinds of eccentric views.

Williams has filed dozens of unorthodox motions in the federal mail and wire fraud case, as shown in the docket report. Screenshot: PACER

In the motions for his federal wire and mail fraud case, he accuses prosecutors of withholding discovery material and deleting contents, the judge of secretly being a prosecutor and the U.S. government of orchestrating the 9/11 bombings, among other things.

Williams also repeatedly attempted in vain to get U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi removed.

Despite his unorthodox behavior, he was found competent to stand trial in January 2019.

And despite his contempt for conventional law, Williams has a history of getting caught up in it.

Williams was sentenced to 180 days in jail for the unauthorized practice of law. Broward County

Hawaii flagged him as early as September 2013, when then-Attorney General David Louie filed a civil suit against his law firm for practicing law illegally and operating a fraudulent mortgage rescue scheme.

Around the same time, Hawaii extradited him to Georgia on an unrelated criminal charge, which was later dropped, though he spent about nine months in jail awaiting trial.

His run-ins with the law didn’t end there.

In Broward County, Florida, he was convicted of unauthorized practice of law in 2016, then grand theft in 2017, for which he received a 15-year prison sentence, Broward county records show.

The grand theft charge was related to another mortgage-related scheme, in which he was “marketing a service whereby he, as an attorney, could perform the magical act of making mortgages disappear,” federal prosecutors said in the trial brief.

He was using the same scheme, they said, involving Mortgage Enterprise Investments and the Common Law Office of America.

The Accomplices

While Williams was busy appearing in courts and jails in multiple states, Mortgage Enterprise Investments and the Common Law Office of America were in the care of his associates.

Two of them were Henry Malinay and Anabel Cabebe, who both started out as his clients.

Cabebe testified during Williams’ criminal trial in 2020 that she didn’t realize the whole operation was a fraud until February 2014. Her attorney, Michael Green, said she helped him because she believed he could help her save her properties and brought her friends in as clients.

“It turned out to be the same lie,” Green said.

Excerpts from Malinay’s bankruptcy case. 

Malinay, by contrast, apparently recognized the scam soon after signing up for the supposed mortgage relief, according to a narrative in his 2015 bankruptcy judgment. He had attended a foreclosure hearing where Williams represented him as a “private attorney general” and lost.

“Even though he admittedly knew that Mortgage Enterprise was a fraud, Mr. Malinay thereafter played a prominent role in the fraudulent mortgage reduction scheme,” according to the findings of fact.

He went on to recruit Ilocano-speaking Filipino immigrants as clients and collected referral fees from the company in return.

For his role in the scheme, Malinay was ordered to pay $200,000 in fines and $74,000 in restitution in a 2015 bankruptcy judgment. He has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a 2020 federal criminal case.

Malinay could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Marc Jeffrey Victor said Malinay declined to comment.

Cabebe, who went by “deputy private attorney general,” also recruited clients for the company, court documents show. As a notary public, she notarized documents for clients for a fee — a privilege she lost following a bankruptcy judgment. She also allowed Williams to use part of a building she owned for company business.

1604 Democrat Street.
Cabebe allowed Williams to use part of this building for Mortgage Enterprise Investment Enterprises. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Cabebe and Malinay took things one step further in 2013, when they and others set up a copycat company with a nearly identical name — Mortgage Enterprise — while Williams sat in jail in Georgia. Court records and testimony show that they set up bank accounts under the new company.

Williams points to this fact as evidence that he was a victim of their fraud, not the perpetrator, calling them the “real culprits” in his motion for acquittal.

“One recurring narrative with the homeowners who were called to testify is that they were signed up by Henry Malinay or Anabel Cabebe and thus this is where the defrauding originated from,” he wrote.

They went behind his back, forged documents and defrauded his customers using his company’s name, he argued.

But Cabebe, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, said she was only doing what she was trained to do.

“You trained all of us,” Cabebe said to Williams during her testimony at his trial. “All the things you trained us in, all lies.”

In a 2016 bankruptcy judgment, Cabebe was ordered to pay more than $165,000 in restitution. In the 2020 federal criminal case, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

“I accept responsibility,” she said. “That’s why I took the plea deal.”

Standing on the podium as his own representative at trial, as Williams accused Cabebe of scamming him, he asked her, “Do you feel like you should go to jail?”

“You should go to jail because you came here to ruin my life,” Cabebe told Williams. “You came here to ruin everybody’s lives.”

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