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New Jersey Woman Held in $30M Mortgage Scheme

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RISMEDIA, June 30 (KRT) A woman accused of orchestrating a $30 million mortgage scam involving nine homes in Bergen County, NJ.,was arrested in a pre-dawn standoff Wednesday that ended when police and federal agents knocked down the door of her Montclair home.

Brenda Rickard, 52, later behaved oddly in court, prompting her lawyer to request a psychological evaluation.

Federal authorities said Rickard masterminded a scheme to falsify loan applications and closing papers to secure mortgages for homes in Saddle River, Cresskill and Alpine that at times were more than double the purchase price of the home.

She and at least seven others then pocketed the difference — about $10 million, they said.

In one instance a Chestnut Ridge Road home in Saddle River that sold for $1.78 million was listed in mortgage papers filed with Lehman Bros. Bank as selling for $4.4 million. The bank issued a $2.86 million mortgage for the home in August 2002.

The scheme involved every step of the real estate process, beginning with a ring of “straw buyers” who posed as restaurant owners and other self-employed professionals who were interested in buying a home, authorities said.

Once a price was negotiated, Rickard collaborated with several other mortgage brokers, a tax accountant and a lawyer to falsify the paperwork, according to a federal indictment.

After the mortgage was approved, Rickard took over the monthly payments, authorities said.

Ultimately, the mortgage payments were “unsustainable,” they said.

Several others have been indicted in the scheme, including two Teaneck residents: Jamila Davis, who allegedly recruited the straw buyers, and Arisma Theodore, who, authorities said, posed as an accountant vouching for the buyers’ financial standing. Lawyer Daniel Ellis and several of the straw buyers have pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

The group was “living large,” said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Federal authorities have seized a Mercedes-Benz and a Range Rover believed to have been bought with the proceeds.

Rickard was charged with six counts of bank fraud and conspiracy and could face 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.

Her day began before sunrise Wednesday, when police and federal agents brought an arrest warrant to Rickard’s Oxford Street home.

Rickard, who was at home with her 12-year-old son, refused to answer the door, and the officers saw through a window that she was carrying a kitchen knife, Drewniak said. Using a battering ram, they broke down the door and arrested Rickard, he said.

“They were concerned for the safety of the defendant and the 12-year-old boy in the house,” Drewniak said.

Later in the afternoon, Rickard appeared in Newark before U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk in blue velour pants and green flip-flops. Speaking with her fist in front of her mouth, she refused a lawyer, claiming that she was a victim of identity theft and that she had been arrested in retaliation for filing lawsuits in Washington, D.C., against law enforcement authorities.

Rickard, who claimed her name is :Brenda :Rickard, is a follower of :Judge: David-Wynn: Miller, who gives seminars around the country and advocates speaking in the “true language,” which features odd punctuation and syntax.

“I have no problem with the complaint against me as long as it’s in the truthful language,” Rickard told the judge.

Public defender Wanda Akin requested a psychological exam for Rickard, who takes medication.

“She’s unable at this time, in my estimation, to appreciate the significance of the charges against her,” Akin said.

Falk ordered Rickard held without bail until a detention hearing July 6.

Davis, 27, and Theodore, 37, both of Teaneck, are scheduled to be arraigned July 7.

Source: The Record, Hackensack, N.J.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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