Victims of an alleged million-dollar fraud by Orlando title agent Leaza Lopez say they trusted her because of her parents’ reputation as a Central Florida real estate couple – Michael and Linda Nabavi.
Lopez is charged with stealing about $1.3 million in funds she was supposed to hold in escrow for her clients. Although her parents are not charged, several victims said they only did business with Lopez because they knew the Nabavis.
“Her family has been in real estate for a long time, and we trusted her mom. So we assumed she was legitimate,” said Orlando businessman Base Maali, who said he lost a $50,000 deposit in the alleged fraud.
Contacted by phone, Linda Nabavi declined to comment on her daughter’s charges. She is currently a real estate agent for Century 21 Carioti.
Lopez has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include organized fraud and stealing escrow funds. Efforts to reach Lopez and her attorney for comment on this story were not successful. According to court records, she told investigators that her troubles began when she missed two months of work following a surgery in 2014.
“Lopez stated she intended to repay all the funds she diverted, but could not provide any answer of where she would get the money,” stated an affidavit filed by the investigator for the Statewide Prosecutor’s office.
The Nabavis have owned real estate and title companies for years in Central Florida, including their current company Platinum Property International.
Another group of buyers told investigators they lost $120,000 that Lopez was supposed to be holding to close on a short sale. Jason and Rachel Costa of Orlando lost money on that deal, and said they used Lopez only because they knew the family – Rachel’s sister once worked for Nabavi at Platinum, the affidavit said.
The investigation went through the the state’s Division of Insurance Fraud; Lopez, a licensed title agent, was arrested in March. She is also facing a civil lawsuit by First American Title Insurance Company, which appointed her to her original position as title agent, according to a state news release. First American had to cover at least $1.17 million of the losses, the state said.
During a five-month period in 2014, consumers filed multiple reports to police and to the state, alleging that Lopez had stolen their money – failing to forward escrow payments to the appropriate mortgage companies.
According to state records, Lopez’ husband Miguel Lopez was president of Lopez’s company, Olde World Title, when it was formed in 2011.
The charges state that at least ten clients of Olde World Title had their escrow funds stolen. Lopez tried to conceal the fraud by making mortgage payments to some of the sellers’ mortgage companies, but stole the funds held in escrow for the hopeful buyers.
In one of the fraud examples, the investigator reported that the Nabavi’s attorney David Cohen, had sent a letter to the Costas saying that Lopez’s company had attempted to wire them their money in September 2014, but the wire was intercepted by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (sic). Upon further review by the state investigator, no such wire transfer had ever been sent from Olde World Title during that time period, the court record said.