By Andra Lim
A former Mrs. Pakistan World beauty queen and her husband allegedly scammed Californians out of thousands of dollars and contributed to some losing their homes.
Saman Hasnain, who won the pageant in 2008, and Jawad Hasnain have been charged with conspiracy to commit grand theft for orchestrating a home loan modification scheme starting when the bubble burst, said Victor Chen, Santa Clara deputy district attorney.
Chen is prosecuting the couple for bilking 17 people around the San Jose area in his district, but said that a couple of homeowners in the Los Angeles area were also victims. He estimates that around 80 to 90 total were affected.
But right now, it's unclear if the Hasnains will actually make it to court - they've fled the country.
The Hasnains have returned to Pakistan with their two sons, who are 8 and 14. Chen said he is optimistic they will return to the U.S. within a year because it is home to their children.
The Hasnains' San Jose company, Almaden Homes LLC, attracted people who were having trouble making mortgage payments. For anywhere from $4,000 to $27,000, the Hasnains would re-negotiate the homeowner's loans with their bank.
They told clients they would put the payment in escrow and would only withdraw it if they successfully re-negotiated the loan.
"They were telling victims, 'It's a win-win situation,'" Chen said.
But it is illegal in California to take fees up front in exchange for loan modifications. And the Hasnains allegedly took the money out of escrow without creating any new deals with banks - and without telling their clients.
The Hasnains also told homeowners to stop paying their mortgages so the banks would see that their loans needed to be rethought, Chen said. About a quarter of the families who were scammed lost their homes, in part because they took this shoddy advice to heart, he said.
As these people were forced to give up their homes, Saman Hasnain would short-sell the houses to avoid foreclosure and earn a commission, Chen said.
"They were also making money from the backend," he said.
Tough accusations against Saman Hasnain, who according to the Mrs. Pakistan World website "enjoys soft rock music" and lists "Titanic" as her favorite movie.