The ex-son-in-law of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made his initial court appearance Wednesday in Los Angeles on federal charges stemming from an alleged real estate fraud scheme in which he’s accused of tricking lenders into providing loans based on bogus property appraisals and collecting rent on luxury homes he did not own while awaiting sentencing in a similar case.
According to the complaint alleging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, which was filed in federal court last month and unsealed Wednesday, Jeffrey Craig Yohai had been free on bond while awaiting sentencing in January in a real-estate fraud case in which he pleaded guilty.
The 36-year-old West Hollywood resident appeared before a federal magistrate judge in downtown Los Angeles late Wednesday afternoon on the new charges and was ordered held without bond pending trial.
According to an affidavit filed in support of arrest and search warrants, the earlier case is “strikingly like” the new case, and involves some of the same participants.
“In both the old and the new offenses, Yohai usually obtains someone else’s money for a purportedly legitimate purpose, such as an investment, but uses the money for personal expenses, or to pay pre-existing debts, and then lulls the victim into believing that the money has been properly used,” according to the document.
“If the victim demands repayment, Yohai often sends checks written on accounts that contain insufficient funds to buy time,” according to the affidavit. “When Yohai can no longer sustain the ruse with bouncing checks, he typically asserts he has wired the money back to the victim, and sends the victim fake documentation of a wire transfer, insisting that there must be some banking mistake to explain why the funds never arrive.”
Yohai divorced Jessica Manafort in August 2017. His former father-in- law was found guilty that month on eight counts of financial crimes and faces sentencing in Virginia in February.
The first case, which resulted in Yohai’s guilty plea, involved about $15 million in real estate loans that supposedly would be used to purchase and rehabilitate properties in the Hollywood Hills. According to court documents, Yohai defaulted on the loans and the properties went into foreclosure, which he tried to delay with bankruptcy filings.
The newly unsealed case references the prior loan fraud case, as well as alleged evidence of prior scams, including a $6 million investment scheme and a check-kiting scheme involving more than $500,000 in checks that bounced, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The new case alleges a loan fraud scheme related to two of the properties at issue in the original federal case. Prosecutors allege Yohai submitted a loan request that contained inflated appraisals; attempted to defraud another lender as he tried to refinance the two properties; and contacted yet another lender with dramatically inflated appraisals to obtain refinancing — an effort that was rebuffed when that third lender learned of Yohai’s guilty plea earlier this year.
Additional alleged fraudulent acts outlined in the federal complaint are the subject of criminal cases filed in state court, including a scam in which Yohai allegedly sold non-existent artist passes to the Coachella Music Festival.
If convicted as charged, Yohai would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison on the conspiracy to commit wire fraud count, and a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years behind bars on the aggravated identity theft count.
Yohai was originally taken into custody on Oct. 31 by the Los Angeles Police Department on cases filed by local prosecutors and was in state custody until he was turned over to federal authorities Wednesday morning, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek.