But the couple’s lasting legacy may be found in their most prized possession: their home.
In their final desperate days, the Wolfs managed to get a spate of sham mortgages slapped on their North Miami Beach house — creating 21 fake transactions — to squeeze millions from lenders before vanishing.
The legal drama in Miami-Dade circuit court offers a rare snapshot of one of the most egregious scams carried out on a single home in South Florida during the mortgage fraud crisis in a case that continues to confound even veteran real-estate lawyers.
In two instances, the Wolfs convinced lenders to give them loans against the home totaling $1 million — even though they didn’t own it anymore.
The case highlights the bevy of attorneys and agents who helped orchestrate the backroom deals without any resistance from regulators or law enforcement.
Two lawyers directly involved in the deals have since been criminally charged in other cases and disbarred, while a third is suspended from practice.
“A pit of vipers,” said Brian Vodicka, a retired business professor who lost $915,000 in a Wolf deal in Texas. “They created so many dummy companies, they made it impossible for law enforcement to keep up.”
Now fugitives, the Wolfs are accused of being part of an organized network of Russian nationals who carried out a string of land frauds in Florida and Texas that bilked 400 people, three banks and four other lenders of nearly $100 million.
LIONS AND STATUES
For years, the house surrounded by Roman statutes and two gilded lions served as the couple’s residence when they launched their company, Sky Development Group, pledging to grow into one of the largest development firms in Florida.
For the Wolfs, the white, columned home in the 3200 block of 167th Street was a place to entertain and recruit investors.
There were cocktail parties at the home, and movies filmed in the backyard with young women showing up to be video taped, recalled a neighbor.
“There were big movie lights set up in the back,” said William Dean, a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who lived two doors away. “There was a huge truck that was bringing all this movie-making equipment. I saw all these beautiful women walking to the front of the house. I can only guess what they were filming.”
But two years after they launched a national advertising campaign to recruit investors, they began to run into trouble.
Initially, major loans were overdue to private lenders, and then the couple began bouncing checks.
By the time customers discovered deeds to their lots were fabricated, the Wolfs began to convert their house into an illegal cash machine.
First, Natalia Wolf received a $2.3 million loan from a Long Island, N.Y. company — G & G Property Investments LLC — securing the money by putting a mortgage on the house as well as other commercial properties the Wolfs owned.
Then two months later, she and Victor Wolf turned over ownership of the house to G & G “in lieu of foreclosure.” But the scams didn’t end.
Two weeks later, Natalia Wolf marched into a loan company and claimed she still owned the house, showing a bogus deed and title. In just days, she walked away with a $224,000 loan on the house from the lender, City First Mortgage.
Less than a month later, she did it again, going to her own lawyer, Hollywood attorney Ben Schulman, asking for a $725,000 loan.
Schulman agreed, turning over the money to her, and taking out another mortgage on the house to secure the money — even though she didn’t own it.
But it still wasn’t over.
While the Wolfs were now launching a new development company in Texas, they continued to look for ways to make money from a house they didn’t own.
This time, Natalia Wolf announced she was going to sell it — for $3.5 million — by concocting a phony deed and finding a 24-year-old straw buyer with a fake Michigan address.
The lawyer for the buyer: Richard Aronsky, 42, who has since been disbarred and was arrested last month on charges of stealing millions in home mortgages.
The loan broker arranging the deal: Globex Lending of Aventura, whose owners happened to be partners with Natalia Wolf in three Florida companies. But the bank rejected the deal because the price was grossly inflated.
With police on their trail, the Wolfs fled the country in late 2006 — leaving the ransacked house behind — but the flipping didn’t end.
In the ensuing months, a new cast of characters would emerge in the home, adding even more confusion to the case.
Five years after the Wolfs disappeared, Groysman says he wants to resolve the case for his client. “He’s a victim, along with hundreds of others,” said Groysman, a former Broward assistant state attorney who filed court papers last week charging the house has been a fraud mill for its owners.
“Real people were hurt. It’s scary that millions of dollars can be stolen from a bank with a pen instead of a gun,” he said, “and the taxpayer and legitimate lenders have to pay for it.”
Written By-Michael Sallah (edited for space)
Complied By Mortgage Fraud Consultants-Chip Cummings-Mortgage Fraud Expert