I’Il be sharing a particularly interesting case involving a real estate attorney, caught in the crosshairs of the government prosecutors for something he had no knowledge about. (As a disclosure for all the inmate stories I share, I only have the information provided from the perspective of the defendant and associated legal paperwork which has been mailed in from the outside as we lack access to the internet as federal inmates. I however do believe the information in this post to be accurate and true.)
Rajesh Maddiwar was involved in various real estate transactions as a real estate lawyer. In this case, his role was to review closing documents with the previous homeowners, in order to make sure they were aware of all the legal implications of the provisions included within the contracts. Closing, for those who might not know, is where you officially transfer the property, in this case real estate, and the associated funds for the transaction between parties, signing all agreements at one time on both sides. This process includes numerous legal documents which can be cumbersome to understand even for those who have been through the process before.
Backing up a little, the clients in this case were homeowners in foreclosure, where they were negotiating short-sells with a real estate investment group. The bank who owned the mortgages was willing to take a loss in trade of the properties, obviously in order to recover some of their money in leading to these individuals. Rajesh was brought in, by the investment group, to consult with the homeowners at closing, specifically to review all the documents they were signing and make sure they understand the legal impact of what the transactions and provisions stated. Prior to this interaction, little was known by Rajesh in terms of what the buyers and sellers agreed to beforehand. His role was specific to just the closing document review. In fact, his payment was nominal, being just $1000 per closing with the homeowner to go over and all documents of the process with the homeowner. This is what I believe to be under industry prevailing practice and fair in terms of cost, so there was no doubt he was profiting excessively off of this transaction or not doing his part.
Prior to Rajesh’s involvement, the investors made some false promises, including the main one in this case being that the homeowners could buy back the property after 90 days in the foreclosure process. However, the provisions signed did not include this stipulation, and Rajesh didn’t even have knowledge of this agreement made prior to his involvement. In the 20-30 closings he performed with these homeowners, no one brought this to his attention and he was still unaware of these false promises. The issues began to come about after Rajesh’s involvement, where homeowners were denied the previous promised option.
There was a civil trial where the homeowners brought suit against the investment group. Rajesh was named in the suits, simply because he was part of the transaction in closing, which is common practice. Usually, in these cases, the individuals who really do not have anything to deal with the suit are dropped and no longer have to deal with the trial process and being involved further in the suit. In his case, Rajesh didn’t have a civil judgment entered against him. However, the false promises got attention of US prosecutors, who developed the matter into a criminal investigation for potential criminal charges to be filed.
I can personally testify, that once you get on the US prosecutors radar, rarely do you escape from the situation without criminal charges being filed. It seems as though almost every case that crosses their desk is already guilty of a crime and needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is exactly what happened to Rajesh. Criminal charges were filed for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Conspiracy is the most ambiguous charge regularly sought under federal law for cases to ensure a conviction. Wire fraud is a catch-all charge which can ensure jurisdiction for the US government to prosecute anything that involves a transaction, which is basically everything a citizen in the United States might do on a daily basis. Without knowing the stats, I believe that the feds have almost a guaranteed conviction off of a conspiracy charge in almost any case. The requirements that must be proved are a low standard and does not include the element of “Mens Rea”, what is known as criminal intent. Common law has supported the idea that there are two parts of the crime first being the crime being committed itself and the second being the criminal intent. Most laws passed in the last several decades by congress does not include the element of criminal intent necessary to be proven.
This lands many innocent people, who never intended to commit a crime, in crosshairs of prosecutors who no longer need to prove that the individual wanted to commit a crime. Systematically, this pretty much guarantees a conviction of anyone who breaks a federal statue. There was an incredible report published in a book recently which showed that the average American is guilty of at least 3 felonies a day, based upon the broad and ambiguous statues, which can be molded to fit almost any benign situation.
In Rajesh’s case, he had no previous personal or professional relationship with the investment group or the bank. The investment group brought him in for closing for the homeowners benefit. He stood in no way to profit from the transaction. He was paid the same amount regardless of provisions within the agreements made between the homeowners and other parties He also rarely had an opportunity to meet these individuals prior to closing, so this was the first time meeting them and was only there professionally to ensure the homeowner understood everything they were signing.
Rajesh believed he was innocent, that he had no knowledge of the false promises, and was not interested in taking a plea deal which would ensure he would have a criminal record for something which he felt he did nothing wrong. The government wanted him to help them, but Rajesh refused to get involved and maintained his innocence. The case eventually went to trial, where a few homeowners testified, sharing what he stated as many false statements while on the stand. It is interesting here, that the homeowners had a lot to stand to benefit from their involvement. Part of the deal made with the investment group for prosecuting the individuals in this case, forced the investment group to give the properties back to the homeowners, for free. They no longer owed anything on their homes, mortgages wiped clean and free – individuals who previously were being forced out of their homes because they could not afford to pay for them. The conflict of interest might be clear here, in exchange for testifying.
He had a witness for the defence, who was contacted by the prosecutor’s office and harassed. If this was done in reverse, he would have had several charges added on, including witness tampering and obstruction of justice. This didn’t help his case any. I have heard this story too many times to not believe it to be true, even in my own case – the government pushes their weight around and intimidates witnesses for the defence all the time.
In the end, Rajesh was convicted under the charge of conspiracy, as almost everyone who decides to take a case to trial, as the legal requirements are so vague to convict anyone of a crime. The jury refused to explain their reasoning for the conviction, however, it should be noted that cases in the Federal system don’t operate the same way as in the State systems. Often, on jury instructions, they don’t decide if the defendant is guilty or not, but go through a checklist, checking yes or no, to come to the conclusion. They are not often allowed free range of thought, but more so guidance towards a specific end result. It is sad, but many federal convictions happen this way, with very limited control for the jury to make rational decisions on their own.
Rajesh was sentenced to 60 months in prison with no fines or restitution. This is largely because he choose to maintain his innocence and take the case to trial. The government made a previous offer prior which would have allowed him no jail time lately under signing a guilty plea. I feel for individuals like Rajesh. His case shows how much power the prosecutors have to decide the fate of individuals who never intended to commit a crime. Rajesh was a law abiding citizen who has no criminal history. All the time and effort preparing for a career including many years of schooling and gaining experience, swept away in a moment, stripped of his license to practice law and provide a decent future for his kids. He will likely have to enter another career now, starting over once his prison sentence is complete. And all of this for what? Something he had no knowledge of brief interaction with several homeowners going through foreclosure.