A former member of the Cook County Land Bank Authority allegedly used “straw buyers” to buy a half-dozen properties from that body in order to redevelop and sell them for his own benefit, federal prosecutors said.
Mustafaa Saleh, 36, was charged Tuesday in federal court in Chicago with a single count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
According to federal prosecutors, Saleh was an asset manager for the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which allows private landlords to purchase and redevelop vacant, foreclosed, abandoned and tax-insolvent real estate properties.
Prosecutors said that from 2016 to 2021, Saleh recruited people to pose as independent buyers and then had them buy six land bank properties, located in Chicago, Oak Lawn and Midlothian, on his own behalf. Employees were barred from having a financial interest in property maintenance companies that contracted with the agency.
After those properties were bought, redeveloped and then sold again, Saleh allegedly asked the straw buyers to pay him the proceeds from the sales. Criminal intelligence also alleges that Saleh lied to federal investigators during a 2021 interview in which he falsely claimed he never collected the proceeds from the sale of any land bank properties.
According to criminal intelligence, Saleh formed a property maintenance company in 2016 called Evergreen Property Services – using another individual as the owner – and then got the Cook County Land Bank Authority to contract with Evergreen and pay more than $ 1 million for property maintenance services over the next three years.
The Chicago Tribune previously reported in 2021 that Saleh had been named by prosecutors in a subpoena sent to the Cook County Land Bank Authority as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. According to the Tribunean investigation into other aspects of the Land Bank Authority is still ongoing.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Cook County Land Bank Authority said on Tuesday that it was “grateful to the United States Attorney’s Office for its thorough investigation into a former employee.”
“CCLBA cooperated fully with the US Attorney’s investigation; the agency, board members, executive directors and other personnel have been victims of this crime and have never been the subject or target of this investigation,” the spokesman said. “This individual is involved in a sophisticated crime and any other application should be referred to the United States Attorney’s Office.”
Saleh’s indictment in a Chicago courtroom has not yet been scheduled.