A former Ridgewood resident pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing $1.9 million from two New Jersey families in Oklahoma real estate scams, US Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
Taya Romano, known by her alias "Tanya Waldon," conspired with her then-husband to defraud two sets of family friends over a two-year period by convincing them to invest in real estate properties and never returning their money.
Romano, 36, of Edmund, Oklahoma, could face up to five years in prison for the latest guilty plea. In January 2011, in a down payment assistance scheme that left buyers wondering how they defaulted on loans.
According to the indictment in Romano's latest conviction, Romano had been family friends with the "N. family," often meeting the husband and wife in their home and providing massages to the couple. The "N family" purchased Romano's wedding dress and even took her to their vacation home in Florida.
When Romano changed careers and ventured into real estate, she and her then-husband, identified in court papers only as "R.W.," convinced the family to invest $40,000 in a property in Oklahoma. A profit of $80,000 was returned and the "N. Family" followed by investing a total of $1,032,750 between 2007 and 2008. The money, according to Fishman, was never returned.
During 2008 and 2009, the patriarch of the "G" family, a general contractor, became entangled in Romano's schemes, according to the indictment. "E.G." was approached to work on a dozen distressed homes in East Orange and Paterson purchased by Romano —properties of which she had been convicted of obtaining fraudulent loans. "E.G." lent Romano money from time to time, the indictment claims, and agreed to participate in real estate purchases in Okalahoma with Romano.
Fishman said Romano convinced the "G. family" to use equity from a commercial property they owned in West Caldwell to pay for an apartment complex in Oklahoma. Romano, over time, seized control of both properties and solicited an additional sum of $240,000 claiming it was needed for a down payment. When all was said and done, Fishman said, Romano had snatched $890,000 from the "G. Family" and has not returned the cash.
In addition to the possibility of five years in prison, Romano was ordered to pay twice the amount of the victims' losses.
Romano's sentencing on both guilty pleas is scheduled for Nov. 25, Fishman said.
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