Former Land Bank employee gets jail time for “straw buyers” scheme

The employee bought six houses under false buyers and renovated and resold them for profit

Former Cook County Land Bank Official Sentenced to Prison
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

A former employee of Cook County’s Land Bank Authority was sentenced to a year in federal prison for a scheme he conducted using straw buyers to purchase and resell land bank homes. 

Earlier this year, the employee, Mustafaa Saleh, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge in relation to the scheme, and on Friday he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood to a year in prison.

Saleh was an asset manager for the land bank, a common entity in major cities that allows governmental agencies to take possession of vacant or delinquent properties and resell them below market rates to buyers who will fix them up. Employees of the land bank can only purchase a land bank property if they intend to use it as their main residence, according to the release.

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Saleh bought six houses from the land bank using “straw buyers” to purchase the property for him between 2016 and 2021. He then either redeveloped or resold the properties — but his work at the land bank meant he sometimes had oversight duties of his own properties, which were located in Chicago, Oak Lawn and Midlothian.

Saleh also formed a property maintenance company that contracted with the land bank and directed another person to serve as the company’s owner. The company was paid more than $1 million in property services via its contracts with the land bank, despite rules saying that employees were not allowed to have financial interests in such companies.

The sentencing was announced by the office of Morris Pasqual, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, which had assistance on the case by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General in Chicago and Chicago’s FBI field office.

Saleh is not the first land bank employee to face backlash for real estate dealings. In 2020, another land bank employee was fired after the agency’s director discovered she evaded paying thousands of dollars in property taxes.

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