Brazilian Arnaldo Prado flew into Miami for Easter weekend to visit with his mother on exclusive Fisher Island. Prado had made the trip many times before, but this one would be different.
More than a dozen FBI agents arrested him and his mother, Maura Lopes, on charges of participating in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme along with four others — including the mother’s ex-husband, who is Prado’s former stepfather.
But after Prado was jailed without bond for six months at a federal detention center in Miami, the U.S. attorney’s office dismissed the charges this week against the 34-year-old sugar farmer — without explanation.
Prado, deemed a “flight risk” to his native Brazil, said his pre-trial detention was like being in a “concentration camp.” His wife, Giulia, and his father, Arnaldo, who is battling cancer, visited him a couple of times each while he was jailed in Miami.
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Prado’s defense attorney, David Garvin, said his client should never have been charged because it was apparent from the mountain of mortgage documents that Prado’s signature had been forged on the loan paperwork and that he wasn’t even in the United States when almost all of the transactions occurred. His mother also flip-flopped on her statements linking Prado to the scheme, which undermined the prosecution’s case. When she pleaded guilty last month to bank-fraud conspiracy and related charges in Miami federal court, she told a judge that her son had not been involved after all in a $1 million mortgage cited in the indictment.
“We showed them at the inception that a huge mistake had been made,” Garvin told the Miami Herald after his client’s release earlier this week. “It’s a forgery of hundreds of pages spread out over three years. It goes on and on and on.”
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on Friday. The dismissal of Prado’s bank-fraud conspiracy and other offenses, which carried up to 30 years in prison, marked the second time that federal prosecutor Dwayne Williams has dismissed criminal charges against someone apparently mistakenly accused of a crime.
In 2011, the U.S. attorney’s office dropped money-laundering charges against a UPS worker and ex-Marine, who was jailed for two weeks and under house arrest for another seven months. His bank account had been used by a Wachovia employee to divert more than $1 million stolen from other customers.
The mortgage-fraud scheme was allegedly run during the prior real estate boom by Lopes’ ex-husband, Raul Enrique Quintana, who will stand trial at the end of November. Lopes, 56, admitted as part of her guilty plea that she conspired with Quintana, 48, a former Navy Seal, and the other co-defendants to buy and sell real estate on Fisher Island, Brickell Avenue and Palm Beach County while defrauding major banks such as JP Morgan Chase and Washington Mutual.
Lopes admitted in a factual statement that in addition to Quintana, she collaborated with a fellow employee at a title closing company who notarized loan documents, a worker at a cellular phone company who acted as a purported employer of mortgage applicants and an employee at Wachovia.
Lopes also implicated her son in the factual statement. But when questioned by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola at her plea hearing in late September, Lopes said her son did not participate in one of the transactions on Fisher Island as alleged in the indictment — raising doubt about his involvement in any aspect of the mortgage-fraud scheme.
Lopes’ defense attorney, Rene Sotorrio, did not respond to requests for comment.
Quintana’s defense attorney, Jason Grey, said his client committed no wrongdoing and insisted Prado was present during the mortgage transactions. “Mr Prado’s signature was not forged,” Grey told the Miami Herald. “It will be proven in trial he was there and signed [the mortgage documents]. The charges were dismissed only because the government ran into witness problems.”
But over the summer, court records show, Quintana planned to plead guilty but backed out.
Another defendant, Evelyn Lara, who worked with Lopes at Title Closing Partners of Brickell, plans to go to trial next month with Quintana. Her defense attorneys, Joseph Rosenbaum and Maria Dominguez, declined to comment.
In addition to Lopes, two other defendants have also pleaded guilty: Luis Enrique Sosa, who was president of Cellular & Wireless Wholesale Corp. in Miami, and Juan Osiel Gonzalez, a former financial specialist at Wachovia.
Lopes’ son, Prado, and his attorney, Garvin, said that the suspected ringleader, Quintana, and the mother apparently forged Prado’s name on at least 14 mortgages ranging from $100,000 to $2.5 million between 2004 and 2007. They said that Lara, as a notary, apparently falsely witnessed Prado’s signing the documents.
“On the dates that he’s supposedly signing the fraudulent mortgage papers, he’s not even in the United States 80 percent of the time,” said Garvin, who hired an expert to compare his client’s passport signature with those on the loan paperwork. “So, it’s not possible for him to have signed those documents.”
Garvin, who portrayed his client as a “victim” in a court filing, obtained a separate trial from the other defendants, saying “his name was used without his consent” and that “he was not present and did not sign the documents.”
Even after he was freed on Tuesday, Prado seemed spooked that he would be arrested again before departing for Brazil that evening.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” said Prado, whose brown business suit hung loosely because he had lost 20 pounds while in detention. “I cried every day.”