A highly respected Hudson County businessman who has had political affiliations with several prominent elected officials – including West New York Mayor and State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires – was indicted Tuesday by the United States Attorney’s Office on charges of bank fraud, mortgage fraud, check kiting, money laundering and bribery of bank officials.
Rene Abreu, the owner and operator of three businesses on Bergenline Avenue in Guttenberg – Abreu Real Estate, The Mortgage Pros and RLA Homes – was named as the primary figure in the 70-page indictment released by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie at a press conference Wednesday in Newark.
Earlier, Abreu had appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan D. Wigenton to face the litany of charges, along with five other defendants named in the case.
The counts allege that Abreu and other employees and associates of The Mortgage Pros, Inc. in Guttenberg fraudulently submitted fictitious loan documents to several financial institutions in order to induce them to issue residential and commercial loans to clients of The Mortgage Pros, Inc.
Abreu also was charged with taking protection money for an illegal gambling operation from former West New York Police Chief Alexander Oriente “on behalf of a high-level West New York public official” in the 1990s. Oriente, as well as 24 other West New York police officers, pleaded guilty in 1999 to the charges of accepting bribes as part of illegal gambling operations in the town.
In the 70-page indictment, the “high-level official” is not named, but Oriente testified in the highly volatile police corruption trial that he regularly gave Abreu $2,000 a week and believed it was being funneled to Sires. Abreu’s attorney has reportedly responded by saying that Oriente had an axe to grind with Sires over not having been given generous enough benefits when he left the force.
Sires has never been mentioned or questioned as part of the Oriente trial, or as part of this current investigation that led to the indictment against his long-time friend, Abreu. Since Sires took office in 1995, the high official could have been a member of the prior administration as well.
“I honestly don’t know what this is all about,” Sires said Wednesday after the indictment was handed down. “It all comes from the other trial [Oriente]. He said he gave Rene money and he presumed that it went upstairs to me. That’s obviously not true.”
Sires was angered by the insinuation that he had anything to do with the alleged bribes. In fact, when Sires took office, he was the one who addressed the issue of the alleged corruption with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and asked the Prosecutor’s Office to assign a director to run the police department.
“I find it very curious that this comes out now,” Sires said. “They know that I’m a high-profile person now. [Sires only became assembly speaker this past January.] Maybe that’s the reason. But what’s the purpose of it? No one has ever talked to me about it. I’ve never been subpoenaed. I think I know what they’re trying to do, because of my position now. They would have sent me something, like a letter. They would have questioned me. Why don’t they just ask me? The chief said these things to get back at me.”
Christie said that he had no comment about Sires being named as the “high level West New York public official.”
“If others want to confirm that Mr. Sires is, that’s up to them,” Christie said. “But I have no comment about Mr. Sires. The indictment was drafted with what we thought was best for this case.”
Among those indicted for their work with Abreu is Ana Martell, a North Bergen resident who served as Mayor Sires’ campaign treasurer for his 1995 mayoral campaign.
Abreu has been known as a long-time Democratic fundraiser, having served on the fundraising committees of Rep. Robert Menendez and Sen. Robert Torricelli, according to reports in various newspapers. He also has contributed to local political campaigns. Abreu has also been a political supporter of Sires, as well as a long-time friend.
Abreu and his wife, Lourdes-Adan Abreu, were named in the indictment as the owners of the businesses that were used to facilitate the various bank and mail frauds that are alleged in the indictment, according to the investigating attorneys.
The allegations stem from activity beginning in September, 1992, and running through February, 2001. The activity involves loans given to properties in North Bergen and West New York.
Also charged in the action was Luis Nieves of Leonia, who is a senior vice-president for Hudson United Bank. The indictment accuses Nieves of accepting a bribe for assisting Abreu to obtain commercial loans. Nieves is also charged with assisting Abreu in a check kiting scheme spanning five years, which, at times, created a negative balance of more than $1 million in Abreu’s business and personal accounts, the indictment says. Check kiting is paying for one check with another. Nieves is also charged with money laundering, or channeling money through different sources to mask its origin.
Eight other people who were said to be employees of Abreu were charged in the 43-count indictment. They include two North Bergen residents, Ana Martell and Kathy Giunta, as well as Valeriano “Valerio” Sanchez of Parsippany, Fernandez Jimenez (address unknown); Edgardo “Eddie” Aguirre (address unknown); Ronald Rosner (address unknown); Jose Cervino of Ridgefield, and Manuel “Manny” Mier of Hillside.
After Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials seized about 50 boxes of records from Abreu’s Guttenberg offices and his home in Fort Lee Wednesday morning, Abreu turned himself in voluntarily to the FBI in Newark, as did Mier.
Martell, Sanchez, Nieves and Cervino were arrested Wednesday. The others named in the indictment will have to appear for the arraignment on May 23 in front of U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.
Abreu sat in the courtroom Wednesday dressed in a suit, wearing handcuffs and ankle shackles. He kept motioning to people in the audience and actually smiled from time to time.
According to the indictment released by Christie’s office Wednesday, the first two counts of the indictment charge Abreu, his wife, Martell, Giunta, Sanchez, Jimenez, Aguirre, Rosner and Nieves with conspiring to commit mail fraud. The counts allege that Abreu and other employees and associates of The Mortgage Pros submitted fictitious loan-related documents to financial institutions to get loans for clients.
The second count of the indictment specifically accuses Nieves of facilitating the mail fraud scheme by processing certain of the commercial loan applications on behalf of Hudson United Bank, and misrepresenting the financial status of the borrowers to the loan review committee at Hudson United Bank. Count 16 also charges Nieves with bank bribery in connection with his solicitation and receipt of approximately $3,000 from another individual, while an officer and employee of Hudson United, as a reward for his assistance in helping the individual obtain a commercial loan.
Nieves worked for 13 years at Hudson United Bank, specializing in loans and mortgages. A spokesperson for the bank, Lynn Van Borkulo-Nuzzo, said that “the indictment has nothing to do with the recordkeeping, safety or soundness of Hudson United Bank or our customers’ accounts.”
The first few counts of the indictment center on specific acts of mail fraud affecting financial institutions, engaged in by Abreu, Lourdes Adan-Abreu, Jimenez, Giunta, Martell, Sanchez and Cervino.
The prosecution speaks
“What you continue to find here,” Christie said, “is that Mr. Abreu manipulated many illegal acts to help his own financial needs. It’s a very unique situation. There were countless crimes benefiting himself, with the use of an insider in the bank.”
Ortiz said that many of the loans and mortgages were based on a host of misinformation provided on the applications.
“As far as we’re aware of, much of the financial losses occurred to the banks that supplied the mortgages,” Ortiz said.
Christie said that specifics about individual losses could not be revealed because of the possible evidence needed for the trial.
The 14th count further charges Abreu, his wife, Martell (an employee of The Mortgage Pros, Inc. and Chief Financial Officer of RLA Homes), and Nieves with conspiring to defraud Hudson United Bank by engaging in a fraudulent check-kiting scheme, whereby they continuously drew checks on Abreu’s commercial bank accounts with insufficient funds at Hudson United and credited other of Abreu’s accounts with the seemingly bona fide checks, in order to pay the business and personal expenses of Abreu and others.
Counts 13 and 15 also charge Abreu, Lourdes Adan-Abreu, Martell and Nieves with conspiring to engage in money laundering.
Count 17 charges that Abreu and Mier conspired to extort money for the protection of illegal gambling. The count alleges that Abreu and Mier demanded and accepted from Oriente bribe and protection money from the proceeds of the video gambling business of Boardwalk Amusements, a West New York business.
Boardwalk Amusements was said to have been conducting illegal gambling operations with the knowledge and protection of the West New York Police Department. The indictment charges that from June 1995 to July 1997, Abreu and Mier received cash payments from Oriente and others, saying that they were acting on behalf of the high-ranking official.
Count 18 charges Abreu, Lourdes Adan-Abreu, Martell, Giunta, Aguirre and Mier with conspiring to structure currency transactions, by causing in excess of $2 million to be deposited into accounts at Hudson United Bank and other financial institutions in amounts of less than $10,000, to avoid the filing of currency transaction reports by the financial institutions, as required by law.
Counts 19 through 42 also charge Abreu, his wife, Martell, Giunta and Aguirre with specific acts of structuring currency transactions.
Count 43 charges Lourdes Adan-Abreu with bribing a bank employee, in that she allegedly gave a bank teller at Hudson United Bank more than $5,000 in cash payments to influence the bank teller in connection with the business and transactions of Hudson United Bank.
As part of the indictment, the defendants must forfeit a monetary judgment of $846,320, which is the total used in the counts 19 through 42, as well as the forfeiture of three lots of property owned by Abreu, his wife, Martell, Guinta and Aguirre.
The defendants must also forfeit $300,000 in representing the total amount of money involved in the money laundering offenses charged in Counts 13 and 15, as well as the forfeiture of one lot and/or parcel of property.
Christie credited Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Philip W. Thomas in Newark, and Special Agents of the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of Anne D. Fahy, who is the Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation section in New Jersey, for their agencies’ roles in the ongoing investigation of corruption in Hudson County.
Christie also credited the Hudson County Public Corruption Task Force comprised of agents from the FBI, IRS and detectives from the New Jersey State Police, for their efforts in this investigation.
“This is all part of the continued pursuit of public corruption that I made a priority when I took over earlier this year,” Christie said. “We’re trying to send a message to public officials that corruption, the facilitation of extortion and bribery will not be tolerated. Financial fraud is something we also take very seriously. We’re going to prosecute and these people will pay. And pay dearly with their freedom. We are vigilant and we are watching.”
Christie would not comment on other current investigations, including a federal probe of alleged wrongdoing in North Bergen, other than that the “investigations are currently ongoing.”
“We’re headed where the facts will lead us,” Christie said. “Other than the protection against domestic terrorism, our next priority is the pursuit of public corruption.”
Maintaining Abreu’s innocence
Gerald Krovatin, a Newark-based attorney, is representing Abreu. Abreu’s wife will have separate counsel. Krovatin maintained his client’s innocence.
“This is just the rehashing of old lies and stale allegations,” Krovatin said. “It all stems from one disgraced official, former Chief Oriente, making allegations in the past. There is no reason in this hyper-technical accounting world to add these new allegations. They seized all records once (in June 1997), so the investigation has been ongoing for five years. My client has not cooperated with authorities and will never cooperate.”
Added Krovatin, “There were deposits into banks and the rest are business records. There haven’t been any specific charges. Rene steadfastly maintains his innocence and refuses to let any of these overtures get to him. He’s resolved and determined to see this through. He came here as an immigrant as a kid with nothing, and basically, he’s the American dream. He looks forward to the day in court, the day that he gets to clear his name.”
Krovatin said that he and Abreu both knew that a day like Wednesday would come.
“After conducting an investigation for five years, with four different U.S. attorneys, it was inevitable,” Krovatin said. “After spending all that time and resources, this is all that they came up with. It’s unfounded.”
Christie responded, “Defense lawyers get paid to make flamboyant comments. The facts are clear.”