The owner of a debt relief company has been indicted in federal court for allegedly defrauding clients by taking their money and not paying their debts.
Marat Lerner, president of The Lerner Group, is facing eight counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and money laundering, collecting nearly $550,000 from his clients and using it for a “variety” of personal expenses, including a BMW, and online dating apps.
Over the course of more than four years, Lerner promised clients he and his company could reduce the monthly mortgage payments by helping them modify their mortgages. Gaining access to his customers’ bank accounts , Lerner then created checks that were made out to Testoni & Villa, a purported escrow agent. But Lerner secretly controlled Testoni & Villa, and instead of holding the funds or transferring it to the mortgage servicers, Lerner deposited the checks into a personal account and used it for his own expenses.
Lerner preyed on a certain type of consumer — Russian immigrants living in Brooklyn, according to federal prosecutors. The defendant stole “their American dream through a scheme built on false promises to help them keep their homes, but in truth, he took advantage of their trust to enrich himself,” said Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a statement.
During one two-year stretch, Lerner allegedly withdrew $195 thousand dollars in payments from his clients’ accounts, but forwarded only $6,525.32 to the clients’ mortgage banks.
If convicted, Lerner is facing up to 20 years in prison.