Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, September 28, 2023


Page 3


$10 Million Restitution Order Is Affirmed


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed an order for payment of restitution in the amount of $10,042,638 by a man convicted of bank fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion.

A memorandum opinion of a three-judge panel—composed of Ninth Circuit Judges Daniel Aaron Bress and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, joined by District Court Judge Jack Zouhary of the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation—was filed Tuesday. It affirms the sentence of Momoud Aref Abaji to roughly eight years in prison—specifically, 97 months—as well as the restitution order.

Total losses of Abaji’s victims—financial institutions—were approximately $12 million, District Court Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California found. An enhancement was imposed based on the losses exceeding $9.5 million.

Fraudulent Scheme

Abaji and his cohorts had tricked financial institutions into making loans based on the supposed value of more than 100 condominium units in several states when, in fact, a component of the purchase price of each unit was a kickback by the condominium builders to the conspirators. When the properties went into foreclosure, the sums realized were lower than what the lenders had been led to believe were the values.

“Whether we review de novo or for plain error, Abaji has not established error in the district court’s restitution order,” the opinion says.

It notes that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act requires that restitution be ordered to be paid to a victim “directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of an offense” and says that Carter “determined the amount of restitution using the actual loss calculations” by the Probation Office.

Disparate Sentencing Claimed

Abaji contended that there was disparate sentencing because co-defendant Ali Mustafa Khatib had been sentenced to a lesser term based on a lower loss amount. The judges pointed out:

“Khatib was sentenced pursuant to a loss calculation based on an earlier assessment of loss that was included in a plea agreement.”

Tuesday’s Ninth Circuit’s opinion issued Tuesday was that court’s second one in the case.

Then-District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford (now retired) on July 17, 2018 sentenced Abaji to nine years in prison and ordered restitution in the amount of $10,047,272. On July 17, 2020, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case for resentencing because Guilford had, in calculating the amount of the loss, included a factor that it found should not have been considered.

Carter on March 30, 2022, re-sentenced Abaji, reducing the prison term by nearly a year, and dropping the restitution amount by $4,634.

The largest amounts of restitution ordered were $2,077,564 to Wells Fargo and $2,020,526 to Bank of America.


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