Victims Unknowingly Transferred Closing Funds to a Fraudulent Account
In September 2015, a Tucson resident contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Phoenix Field Division’s Tucson Resident Agency to report the theft of closing funds during a real estate transaction. The victim had wired $189,500 in closing funds to a bank account in the name of SkySea Logistics Services after receiving an email indicating the bank account information for the closing had changed. The victim, believing the email was from a party to the real estate transaction, wired the funds as instructed in the email. However, SkySea Logistics Services was a front business controlled by Franco and was not a legitimate party to the real estate transaction. Franco provided SkySea Logistics Service’s business and account information to others for use in receiving the proceeds of criminal activity between September 2013 and September 2015.
During the investigation, the FBI discovered another Tucson victim who transferred closing funds to the same SkySea Logistics Services’ account. The funds wired by both victims totaled $391,500. The Attorney General’s Office seized the full amount of the funds from the bank account and returned the money to the victims.
“This type of real estate wire fraud is becoming more common as more of these transactions take place electronically,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Con artists like Franco and her associates use sophisticated and legitimate-looking emails to trick home buyers out of their funds. Before wiring any money in a real estate deal, consumers should call their lender or real estate agent to verify the dollar amount and also that the transaction is legitimate.”
On Tuesday, Franco pleaded guilty to one count of attempted Money Laundering in the Second Degree.
Franco faces up to 3.75 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is set for December 16, 2019.