Pot Planters Plead Guilty of Massive Mortgage Fraud

Written by: Steve Cook   Fri, October 2, 2009 Beyond Today’s News, Consumer Report

Four South Florida brothers pleaded guilty in Miami yesterday to obtaining 18 mortgages fraudulently in five different Florida counties to buy houses for a massive marijuana farming operation that used specially designed hydroponic grow rooms equipped with a sophisticated timed watering and lighting system with electric meter diversions.

Manuel Pupo, a/k/a Tata, Elieser Pupo, Serguey Pupo, Elmer Pupo, a/k/a Elmes, all formerly of Miami, Florida, each pleaded guilty to a variety of drug, mail fraud and money laundering charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, December 11 and face 20 to 40 years.

The Pupos acquired houses by falsifying mortgage applications and recruited caretaker farmers, mostly immigrants, to maintain the houses where they grew marijuana. According to the farmers, the Pupos paid for their living expenses, transportation, supplied and set up the grow system materials (including marijuana plants), and taught them how to care for and harvest the mature marijuana plants. After the marijuana was harvested, the Pupos sold it and paid the grow farmers a percentage of the proceeds, minus the advanced living expenses. The marijuana farming operation was discovered in May 2006 by an investigation by the Port Saint Lucie Police Department.

The brothers then laundered the proceeds, between $200,000 and $400,000, and used the profits to pay the mortgages of the marijuana grow houses. In addition, the Pupos would give money to the marijuana farmers and request that the farmers return the money in the form of rent checks, which would be deposited into their accounts under the guise of rental income to conceal and disguising the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the funds.

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