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Mahwah Con Man, Partner Prey On Elderly In $1.6M Scam, Feds Charge

MLK federal courthouse building in Newark
MLK federal courthouse building in Newark Photo Credit: COURTESY: Michael Poreda

Using an unlicensed real estate appraiser name Soprano, a pair of contracting con men – one from Mahwah, the other from Clifton – pocketed $1.6 million by targeting elderly victims in a reverse mortgage scam, federal authorities charged.

Philip Puccio Jr., 40, of Mahwah, and Rafael Peralta, 46, of Clifton, convinced the homeowners to apply for the mortgages for home repairs, an indictment returned by a federal grand jury says.

The duo then got unindicted co-conspirator Joseph Soprano to inflate the values of the homes on applications for home equity conversion mortgages (HECM), also known as a reverse mortgage, the indictment says.

The banks, in turn, provided loans “greater than what would otherwise be available,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said Monday.

Puccio, formerly of Saddle Brook, and Peralta also took steps to conceal the fact that they’d directed the loans not to the homeowners but to accounts that they owned and controlled “for their personal benefit,” he said.

Left holding the bag were the homeowners – who had to be at least 62 years old to qualify for the loans – and the lending institutions, the U.S. attorney said.

One of the homeowners lived in Hackensack. Four others lived in Newark and another in Orange, records show.

Carpenito credited special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, special agents of the FBI, and special agents of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General for the investigation leading to the indictment.

Handling the case for the government is Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Di Gregory of Carpenito’s Division in Newark and Charlie Divine of the HFA’s Office of the Inspector General.

Puccio and Peralta remained free pending further court action following a hearing Monday before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton.

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