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2019 MID-TERM ELECTIONS: MODEL OR MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY?

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NOT FOR LOVE, MARIA BARTKO MARRIED IN EXCHANGE OF "USED CAR"

 

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2019 Journal GlobaLinks)

 

CHICAGO (JGL) – Marriage by convenience has usually a dollar, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, ring to it.

But for Maria Bartko, a Filipino naturalized U.S. citizen and single mother, who desperately needed money to send for the pre-medical college education of her son in the Philippines, opted for a “used car” to marry in 2004 an undocumented Filipino immigrant Joseph C. Alzona desperately fighting deportation in a marriage rite fixed by Manny Aguja. Her son is a U.S. citizen born in the U.S., Ms. Bartko told Judge Thomas M. Durkin of the U.S. District Court of Illinois in Chicago on Feb. 26 at her sentencing. But in a sentencing memorandum filed by her lawyer, Thomas C. Brandstrader, last Feb. 19, her son is only eight years old.

Mr. Aguja, a disbarred Filipino American lawyer and his twin brother, Marc Aguja, and several others were convicted and had served time in federal prisons in 2012 “for encouraging” marriage fraud. One of the conspirators, Filipino American deputy clerk of court, Maria Flordelis Pulido-Cruz, was sentenced to 33 months for being the “arranger” of 27 fraudulent marriages, making $1,000 to $3,000 per marriage for herself.

When a sham marriage is consummated out of “desperation based on economic stress,” such marriage is “not aggravation” as far as Judge Durkin is concerned in sentencing Ms. Bartko last Feb. 26 to seven months in jail for one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution.

Ms. Bartko, 51, of 7000 Block of W. Gunnison, Harwood Heights, Illinois, a former caregiver who wanted to earn on the side as part-time loan officer of Amronbanc Mortgage Corporation at suburban Lincolnwood, Illinois, was the live-in partner of Mr. Alzona, who ratted on former Filipino American Judge Jessica Arong O'Brien to federal authorities to have committed healthcare fraud. Ms. O'Brien, however, ended up being charged with, convicted of and sentenced to one year and one-day imprisonment with bank and mail frauds growing out of fraudulent real estate transactions that included making false statements by among others inflating her income and deflating her liabilities to obtain loans. 

"HARDSHIP" REASON 

Mr. Alzona provided the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General investigators alleged healthcare fraud dossiers on Ms. O'Brien.

Mr. Alzona who used “hardship” reason to gain immigration relief for providing evidence against Ms. O'Brien might not be lucky enough to stay in the U.S. as the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 that amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish new “S” nonimmigrant visa classification is only granted to undocumented whistleblowers who can supply authorities critical reliable information necessary to the successful investigation and/or prosecution of criminal or terrorist organizations. This profile may not fit Ms. O'Brien, who is an individual white-collar felon and not a member of an organized group. An applicant of "S" visa must also be able to prove that his life is in danger if he were returned to his homeland. And available "S" visas are capped at 200 only for each fiscal year.

When Ms. O’Brien asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew F. Madden what kind of immigration benefit did the U.S. government give to Mr. Alzona  during the pre-trial of the case, Mr. Madden replied:

Neither the United States Attorney’s Office nor the agencies investigating this case (FBI and FHFA) have provided  with an immigration benefit or promised him that they would.” 

"LESS CULPABLE” BUT “SOLE RESPONSIBLE”

Although Ms. Bartko was “less culpable” after pleading guilty to mortgage fraud than her co-defendant Ms. O'Brien who did not plead guilty in the fraudulent sale of Ms. O'Brien's two real estate properties in the south side of Chicago, Judge Durkin said, Ms. Bartko is “solely responsible” for the second fraudulent sale of two real estate properties in suburban Skokie, Illinois that caused losses of $675,500 to lenders after her recruit, straw buyer, Christopher Kwan, applied for a fraudulent loan of $1,119,000 falsely stating that Mr. Kwan was going to reside in the two properties. Although Kwan earned $10,000 for the transactions at $5,000 per property, Kwan was not named a defendant in the indictment.

It was also right after the Skokie transactions that Ms. O'Brien, a Special Assistant Attorney General for the Illinois Department of Revenue in Chicago at that time and a part-time loan officer of Amronbanc, told her fellow loan officer at Amronbanc, Ms. Bartko, that she had “too much debt” and that she needed to sell her two real estate properties at 625 W. 46th St. and at 823 W. 54th St. in Chicago's south side thru her own O'Brien Real Estate LLC.

Although Ms. Bartko cooperated with the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois in the investigation of Ms. O'Brien following the healthcare fraud disclosure of Mr. Alzona, Judge Durkin did not give Ms. Bartko a probation at the sentencing because, unlike Ms. O'Brien, Ms. Bartko was also involved in another fraudulent sale of two real estate properties in Skokie.

At pre-sentencing, the U.S. Attorney recommended eight months for Bartko. While the Probation Officer recommended 12 months. Bartko's lawyer, Mr. Brandstrader, requested that the Court impose a sentence less than recommended by either the government or probation as those “sentence recommendations would be greater than necessary to serve the purpose of the federal sentencing scheme.” 

TO PAY $1.3-M IN RESTITUTIONS 

Judge Durkin sentenced Ms. Bartko to serve seven months in federal prisons and to pay restitution in the amount of $1,335,000, 72 hours after her release from prison and while she is on a two-year supervised release plus $100 special assessment fee.

In 2007, Bartko recruited Mr. Christopher Kwan to purchase two real estate properties at 9109 Skokie Blvd. and 8208 North Keating St. in Skokie, Illinois although she knew that Kwan filed for loan applications falsely stating that he was going to reside in the two properties. Lenders approved Kwan's loan applications and funded the loans in the amount of $1,119,000. For this loan, the lenders lost about $675,500, an amount which Ms. Bartko will have to pay back when she gets out of prison.

The sale of the Chicago properties by O'Brien to Kwan took place on April 16, 2007 for the 46th St. property for $365,000 thru CitiMortgage and Citibank, N.A, a financial institution whose deposits are insured by the FDIC. The following day, the closing took place for the sale of the 54th St. property from O'Brien to Kwan thru First Magnus Financial Corporation loan for $365,000 to finance the purchase.

Instead of selling the Chicago properties to Ms. Bartko, Ms. O'Brien offered to pay kickbacks to Kwan and Bartko for $77,836 by inflating her income and by deflating her liabilities.

On both sales of the Chicago and Skokie real estate properties, Kwan was not named as a defendant either although he used the same modus operandi in obtaining loans for both sales. He falsely applied for mortgage loans using materially false representations, including to live in the properties, which is a requirement to obtain the loans. 

MATERIALLY FALSE INFORMATION 

It was part of the scheme that in or about Aug. 2004, defendant O'Brien caused to be submitted to a lender loan documents for a mortgage loan to finance the purchase of the 46th St. property, knowing that the documents contained materially false information, including false statements regarding her income and liabilities.

In the indictment, O'Brien, had purchased the 54th St. property in 2004 one month after she purchased the 46th St. property, thru Bartko as loan originator, and submitted lender loan application to refinance the O'Brien's mortgage loans on the properties, knowing both applications contained materially false statements regarding O'Brien's income and employment.

Bartko was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,335,000, which include losses of $675,000 in Skokie properties plus $660,000 in Chicago properties, which she will pay “jointly and severally with Ms. O'Brien.”

In executing the scheme, O'Brien and Bartko delivered the payoff check for $297,208.96 for the payment of the 46th St. property. The scheme caused lenders to suffer losses totaling $660,000, which is the amount Ms. O'Brien and Ms. Bartko would have to share in paying restitution. 

O'BRIEN TO APPEAL, BARTKO NO COMMENT 

For the $660,000 Chicago restitution, the $315,000 is payable to Citigroup while the $345,000 is payable to Federal National Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac). O'Brien's special assessment fee of $200 is waived.

At the sentencing of Ms. O'Brien, Judge Durkin said the overall scheme in her Chicago properties, she fraudulently obtained 1.8 million [dollars] in loans. “The loss of $660,000 is significant. Your gain was significant. When those houses were sold, you realized proceeds of $220,000 from the sales after payments of the kickbacks to Bartko and ultimately to Kwan.”

Ms. O'Brien has appealed her conviction to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago, Illinois. This was filed by her lawyer, Allan A. Ackerman. She has until March 15 to submit her appeals brief, three days before she starts serving her sentence at noon on March 18. Appellees' (government's) brief is due on or before April 15,  and appellant's (Ms. O'Brien's) reply brief is due on May 6, 2019.

Ms. Bartko and her lawyer did not respond when philamessenger.com asked them after the sentencing if Ms. Bartko is going to appeal her sentence.

Ms. Bartko, when asked by Judge Durkin during the plea agreement hearing last January 2018, said, “I was very new here in Illinois. I was just a single mom trying to make a living. And I met the owner of Amronbanc. I used to work for her in her home health.

She told me that I could learn this mortgage business. So I learned the job thru work. I never had formal education. We learned it by the supervisors.

And in that time, it was, like, the normal transaction that's going around. So when that came, I took an opportunity. I thought I could make money. The supervisors didn't say that you cannot do that. They were actually guiding me.

I was just following them, you know, when they said, “You can buy this property. You can make money if you know anybody.

So, I talked to my friend, Chris [Kwan]. He is into that. I did not recruit him. I told him that “If you want to get in.”

Judge Durkin, however, interrupted her narrative, telling Ms. Bartko, “I'm not looking for a long explanation. Apparently, you're going to testify in this case, and you can talk about it at that time.

What I need to hear from you is that you did something that you knew was wrong.”

At this point, Ms. Bartko told the judge, “Yeah, I know I did – was wrong. I did talk to Juan about this deal that we were working with Jessica. I know what I submitted was false information.”

Judge Durkin asked her, “What is your plea to Count 1 of the indictment: guilty or not guilty?

Her lawyer, Mr. Brandstrader, responded, “Guilty.” And Ms. Bartko also, responded, “Guilty.” (Contact reporter on Twitter: @jogalar)

 

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