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Undercover Operative in Probe of Alderman's Chief of Staff Testifies in Court in Another Case

chicagotribune.com | March 12, 2014

By Jason Meisner

The undercover informant who secretly recorded meetings with Ald. Howard Brookins as part of an FBI sting testified Monday that he also wore a wire for authorities after his 2008 arrest in a federal mortgage-fraud investigation.

Mhde Askar, who pronounces his name “Moddy,” is at the center of the case against Brookins’ longtime chief of staff, Curtis Thompson Jr., who was charged late last month with accepting a $7,500 bribe from Askar in exchange for the alderman’s blessing on a liquor license in his 21st Ward. Brookins has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

Court records show Askar, 28, agreed to cooperate with authorities after he was accused six years ago in a $17 million mortgage-fraud scheme involving a posh River North condominium high-rise. Askar wore a wire on a former business partner, but that person was never charged. Askar pleaded guilty to fraud last March and is awaiting sentencing. He hopes his assistance in Thompson’s prosecution will help reduce his prison term, court records show.

In his first court appearance since the charges against Thompson were unsealed, Askar was called to testify at the sentencing hearing of co-defendant Mahmoud Saleh, who pleaded guilty to participating in the mortgage-fraud scheme. Saleh’s attorneys were attempting to show that Askar was the mastermind of the plot and took part in similar schemes without Saleh.

Appearing uncomfortable during his five hours on the witness stand, Askar testified he was still in high school when he began working at a suburban loan office, learning the ropes of mortgage processing. When he was just 17, Askar was recruiting straw purchasers in a scheme to obtain millions of dollars in loans, he said.

After Askar’s arrest in 2008, agents searched his family’s home on Chicago’s Northwest Side and found nearly $300,000 in bundled cash in two safes hidden in his bedroom, according to court records. He told court officials at the time he earned $25,000 a month as a property manager.

When his testimony ended Monday, Askar was whisked away out a private exit at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, away from the prying eyes of reporters and photographers.

Askar’s attorney, Jeffrey Steinback, later said his client has been under enormous pressure since the charges against the alderman’s aide were announced. Askar “desperately did not want to” testify Monday but did so “truthfully and humbly.”
“He is fundamentally a very decent young man,” Stenback said.

According to the criminal complaint against Thompson, Askar, who was identified only as Cooperating Witness 1, wore a hidden video recorder to several meetings with Brookins and his staff a few months ago as he pretended to be in search of a liquor license for a new convenience store.

At one meeting in October, Askar presented the alderman with a photograph of a store that had a Post-it note stuck askew on the bottom, spelling out a $12,000 bribe in exchange for the alderman's support. Brookins turned his head “slightly sideways” as he looked at the paper, then passed it to an aide who handed it to Thompson, prosecutors said.

Two days after that meeting, Thompson was recorded by the FBI telling an associate that Brookins would green-light the liquor license after all. But Thompson had serious reservations about the developer's sloppy bribery tactics, prosecutors alleged. “He needs to quit writing things down, you know?” prosecutors quoted Thompson as saying.

At the alderman’s office holiday party in December, Askar handed Thompson a Christmas card stuffed with 75 hundred-dollar bills, prosecutors said.

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CFLA was founded by the Nation's Leading Foreclosure Defense Attorneys back in 2007 to serve the Foreclosure Defense Industry and fight pervasive Bank Fraud. Since opening our virtual doors, CFLA has rapidly expanded to become the premier online legal destination for small businesses and consumers. But as the company continues to grow, we're careful to hold true to our original vision. For us, putting the law within reach of millions of people is more than just a novel idea—it's the founding principle, just ask Andrew P. Lehman, J.D.. With convenient locations in Houston and Los Angeles, you can contact Our National Account Specialist and General Manager / Member Damion W. Emholtz at 888-758-2352 for a free Mortgage Fraud Analysis or to obtain samples of work product, including cutting edge Bloomberg Securitization Audits, Litigation Support, Quiet Title Packages, and for more information about our Nationally Accredited and U.S. Department of Education Approved "Mortgage Securitization Analyst Training Certification" Classes (3 days) 24 hours for approved CLE & MCLE Credit (Now Available Online).

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