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By Kyle Swenson
United States Attorney, Southern District of Florida
99 NE Fourth St., Miami, FL 33132
Dear Mr. Ferrer:
Riptide commends you for cracking down on the scoundrels responsible for the rampant mortgage fraud plaguing South Florida. With that in mind, we want to bring a related case to your immediate attention. We have reason to believe Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is gaming the mortgage lending system.
A man with your keen understanding of mortgage applications knows that when buyers apply for a home loan, they are required to reside at the property if it is not for investment purposes. Well, it seems Commissioner Sarnoff — a Florida Bar-admitted attorney who authored ethics legislation for city officials — has abused the requirement in order to obtain lower interest rates. Riptide has reviewed the commission chairman's mortgage documents for three properties he purchased in Coconut Grove between 1993 and 2000. We're pretty sure he hasn't lived at all of them at the same time.
• 3197 Virginia St.: Sarnoff purchased this lovely two-story townhouse for $160,000 in 1993. According to the loan documents recorded with the Miami-Dade County clerk's office, he was required to occupy the property as his primary residence.
• 3000 Shipping Ave.: Five years later, the commissioner upgraded to a beautiful abode for $240,000. Even though he was still required to live at 3197 Virginia per that property's loan documents, Sarnoff affirmed he would reside at 3000 Shipping, according to the mortgage he signed with Northern Trust Bank.
• 3100 Virginia St.: In 2000, Sarnoff expanded his real estate portfolio when he paid $340,000 for this residence next door to his Shipping Avenue home. His lender, Citibank, stipulated he had to reside at 3100 Virginia. Of course, he was already required by his other mortgage lenders to live at 3197 Virginia and 3000 Shipping.
What's more, Sarnoff refinanced 3197 Virginia in 2001 and 3100 Virginia in 2006. He again signed documents stating the properties would be his primary residences. (Sarnoff sold 3197 Virginia in 2002.)
We don't need to tell you that lying on mortgage applications has landed a lot of people in trouble in these days of rampant mortgage fraud. Indeed, this past August 30, you squeezed guilty pleas from four defendants who had set up fraudulent mortgage transactions by falsifying information on loan applications.
In the late '90s, then-Miami Commissioner Humberto Hernandez was convicted of using false documents to secure loans from financial institutions. The same treatment should be afforded to Commissioner Sarnoff.
With sincere regards,