MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The acting mayor of North Miami said it will be business as usual in the city despite the suspension Mayor Lucie Tondreau who was indicted Tuesday as part of a mortgage fraud investigation.
According to the City of North Miami Charter, Vice Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime was appointed acting mayor after Gov. Rick Scott formally suspended Tondreau from public office.
On Wednesday Bien-Aime said city operations will run normally.
“That’s why we have been elected. To serve the people, the people of North Miami and we are living in the United States of America. Business will be conducted as usual,” said Bien-Aime.
Except for Tondreau’s name plate being removed from the commission chambers and her picture removed from the wall, everything else was the same at City Hall.
“We’re savvy veterans and we’ve seen this kind of thing play out in other communities but we’re not going to let it make us take our eye off the ball,” said Commissioner Scott Galvin. “We’re going to continue through with the swing and knock a home run.”
Former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestine, the city’s first Haitian-American mayor who served from 2001 to 2005, hoped the public would not be disillusioned by Tondreau’s case.
“It’s a big blow to our community that we have to work on and ensure that we do better in the future,” said Celestine.
City leaders say they have up to 60 days to hold a special election to replace Tondreau who was released from federal custody late Tuesday afternoon on $50,000 bond.
As she walked out of the federal courthouse, she told the waiting reporters, “I would like to thank everybody for their support, today has been long day, my goodness, we have to look forward to end of this. I’m innocent and I’m sure my attorneys, my community will be with me. All I have to say is North Miami stand tall.”
Tondreau, who is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution, was ordered to surrender her passport.
“We await the opportunity to demonstrate her innocence. There is a lot of work for our legal team,” said her attorney Ben Kuehne.
He added that Tondreau would be “vindicated.”
Tondreau, along with Karl Oreste of Miramar, Okechukwu Josiah Odunna of Lauderdale Lakes and Kelly Augustin of North Miami are accused of fraudulently obtaining loans on 20 South Florida properties between 2005 and 2008.
According to the indictment Oreste, president of KMC Mortgage Corporation of Florida, found residential properties for sale in South Florida and then he and Tondreau hosted several radio showsin which they advertised the services offered by KMC Mortgage.
Federal prosecutors claim Oreste and Tondreau recruited and paid some of the listeners who answered those ads to pose as potential buyers of the properties. Augustin, an employee of KMC Mortgage, also recruited straw borrowers.
The indictment alleges that Oreste and Odunna prepared loan applications on behalf of the straw borrowers. Odunna was president of O.J. Odunna, P.A. and Direct Title and Escrow Services.
These loan applications included false information relating to employment, wages, assets, according to the indictment. The loan applications were then submitted to various mortgage lenders.
Once the loan applications were approved, the lenders wired loan funds to O.J. Odunna, P.A., Direct Title for closing.
At closing, a portion of loan proceeds were disbursed to Oreste through his corporation, JR Investment and Mortgage Corporation, or other bank accounts controlled by him.
In some instances, a portion of the loan proceeds was diverted to accounts controlled by Odunna.
Investigators claim Oreste also used part of the loan proceeds to pay recruiters – such as Tondreau and Augustin – and the straw borrowers. Oreste also transferred a substantial portion of the funds to bank accounts of LTO Investment Corporation, a corporation controlled by Tondreau, according to the indictment.
Tondreau allegedly used those funds to make payments on the fraudulently obtained mortgages in order to maintain the loans, and to conceal the fraud. She also used a portion of the funds for her own personal use and benefit.
The indictment alleges that over the course of the conspiracy, the group took lenders for approximately $8,000,000.00. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of 30 years in prison.