In a real estate market saturated with stories about money laundering, offshore conniving and even murder-related property depreciation — it’s easy for allegations against one unlicensed mortgage broker to get lost in the fray.
After all, British Columbia is used to stunning examples of greed and deception.
But the activity outlined in last week’s cease and desist order against Jay Kanth Chaudhary is something different entirely.
Not just because Chaudhary is accused of using fake financial documents to dupe lenders into giving out half a billion dollars worth of loans. But because an entire network of licensed professionals are being investigated for helping.
And because hundreds of customers were allegedly willing to turn a blind eye if it helped them get a mortgage.
“I guess to me what’s remarkable is the widespread apparent — there’s no word for it really other than ‘corruption’ — of licensed people,” says Ron Usher, a professor of property law at Simon Fraser University.
“To me, that’s a bit breathtaking.”
‘Tune-up to somehow fit new lending rules’
The case is by far the biggest allegation of so-called “shadow brokering” that B.C.’s Financial Institutions Commission has investigated to date.
But it’s by no means the only one in which investigators claim to have peeled back the layers of financing deals to reveal an unregistered puppet master pulling strings to get loans for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.
According to acting registrar of mortgage brokers Chris Carter, Chaudhary collected $6 million in fees from nearly 900 clients in the decade since his licence as a registered mortgage broker lapsed in 2008.
Carter says as many as 20 mortgage brokers and real estate licensees are currently under investigation for their ties to Chaudhary.
The case bears a striking similarity to the allegations against Vinita Devi Lal, an unlicensed woman facing a hearing for allegedly feeding altered tax documents through three licensed mortgage brokers to help secure loans for clients.
Usher, who is general counsel for B.C.’s Society of Notaries Public, says both cases are revealing for what they show about the desperation of people to get into the housing market.
And who is — and is not — able to get money without a little document doctoring.
“I suspect the bulk of this is going to be fraud for shelter,” he says. “People who don’t quite qualify in our tight market, who just need a ”tune-up’ to somehow fit new lending rules.”
Fish filleter, hairdresser, janitor
Usher notes that Blueshore Financial, the credit union that blew the whistle on Chaudhary, says none of the loans in question have resulted in loss or delinquency.
These are customers who are able to make the payments on a mortgage — they’re just not willing to tell the Canada Revenue Agency where most of their money comes from.
The FICOM documents related to Lal included a self-employed fish filleter with an annual salary of $30,000, a self-employed hairdresser making $13,451 a year and a janitor earning $10,881.
All were allegedly able to qualify for mortgages with the help of phony tax documents.
In the Chaudhary case, investigators interviewed a woman and her father whose application for a mortgage was declined after it was submitted by a licensed broker accused of working extensively with Chaudhary.
The woman’s husband was unemployed and on disability.
And yet, numerous applications filled with false or doctored documents were allegedly filed on their behalf in the hopes of securing financing.
So who is to blame?
It’s not the first time regulators have investigated Chaudhary. His licence was suspended for nearly four months in 2008 after an investigation into a string of almost identical allegations.
In that case, FICOM staff received an email from a senior investigator at TD Canada Trust “advising that he had received information from an unidentified source who stated that Chaudhary was committing fraud by paying bank employees secret cash in exchange for deals.”
So who is to blame?
The would-be homeowners who don’t ask why one fixer can secure a deal for them where no one else could?
The licensed brokers or real estate agents who deliver challenging customers to so-called shadow brokers — if it will help secure a deal?
Bank employees who allegedly take tips for business?
‘A whole lot more conversations’
And what are the consequences?
The maximum fine for shadow-brokering appears to be $50,000. One of the brokers who assisted Lal was banned for 10 years and the other two still face hearings.
Chaudhary could not be reached for comment and a call to his wife went unanswered. He has a right to appeal the cease and desist order. He is not facing any criminal charges.
FICOM says it works with other authorities, and Vancouver police officers accompanied investigators when they obtained an order to enter Chaudhary’s home in February.
But Usher suspects the investigation won’t go beyond the regulator.
“Partly, it falls like many of these kinds of cases into the too hard pile, the priority pile,” he says.
“And so, there are just a whole lot more conversations we need to have.”
At least until the next real estate story comes along.