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Charges issued in $10M bank fraud

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Two Fresh Meadows men and a man from Connecticut were charged in Manhattan federal court Friday with defrauding several banks of at least $10 million by allegedly obtaining commercial loans and lines of credit using false and fraudulent documents, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Christopher Cavounis, 30, and Jagdesh Cooma, 27, both of Fresh Meadows, and 31-year-old Promfret, Conn., resident Thomas Nuccio allegedly used fraud to obtain at least 16 commercial loans and lines of credit worth at least $10 million from eight different lenders from at least 2009 to November 2010, Bharara said.

To trick the lenders into providing the loans, the three men allegedly engaged in an elaborate scheme in which they prepared and then submitted applications and supporting documentation for commercial loans that contained false and misleading information on behalf of shell companies with no existing business or assets, the U.S. attorney said.

Cavounis was charged with organizing, managing and supervising a continuing financial crimes enterprise, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

He was also charged with bank bribery — a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Both Cavounis and Cooma — who faces up to 62 years in prison if convicted — were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, Bharara said.

Nuccio was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud.

The eight banks that fell victim to the alleged scheme were Capital One Bank, Citibank, First Republic Bank, Herald National Bank, New York Commercial Bank, Signature Bank, Sovereign Bank and TD Bank, Bharara said.

As part of the alleged scheme, Cavounis and Cooma recruited straw borrowers who provided personal information to the defendants in exchange for future payment, the U.S. attorney said.

Using the information, the defendants represented the borrowers as owners or executives of various companies in applications for loans from the banks, Bharara said.

Cavounis and Cooma allegedly provided the lenders with fraudulent documentation in support of the applications, which they had created and which purported to accurately reflect the personal and financial information of each straw owner or the corresponding company, the U.S. attorney said.

Cavounis also allegedly paid a Citibank employee more than $135,000 in bribes during a four-month period in 2010 to secure several lines of credit worth $2.45 million, Bharara said.

When one of the banks froze a line of credit obtained through the scheme, Cavounis allegedly made threats in an attempt to obtain the loan, the U.S. attorney said.

In October 2010, after Citibank approved a $450,000 line of credit but froze the funds after Cavounis attempted to withdraw the whole amount within days of the approval, Cavounis allegedly threatened two Citibank bankers with physical violence unless the loan proceeds were made immediately available to him, Bharara said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 10:53 am, October 12, 2011
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