BY JARED WHITLEY
To steal from Detroit rapper Eminem, “Will the real Suzanne Okun please stand up? Please stand up? Please stand up?”
Because she’s strangely hard to find.
According to a 2019 biography posted in the industry publication Scotsman Guide, Okun was “a successful executive with more than 25 years of success in the financial-marketing and mortgage industries … [with] a proven record of increasing volume while improving efficiencies and encouraging interaction.”
But, interestingly, no photo of her appears with her biography, no relevant social media accounts were publicly available, and several phone numbers associated with her were either wrong or no longer in service.
While going off the grid is unusual, what industry observers find even more odd is her purported relationship with Mat Isbhia of United Wholesale Mortgage and his longtime business bro, Anthony Casa.
Ishbia, the head of United Wholesale Mortgage, and Casa, the former head of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), have long been magnets for bad headlines, including low-balling layoffs, harassment lawsuits, collusion, and ostentatious displays of Gilded Age-like wealth. But Okun – although a founder of some of the most profitable of Ishbia’s companies – is nowhere to be found.
If the public record is accurate, Okun has been signing her name to companies only to hand them off to Ishbia and Casa. Yet as they created significant wealth and opulence – Forbes estimated Mr. Ishbia’s net worth at $4.8 billion in 2022 – Ms. Okun seems to be living in obscurity.
An exhaustive open-source and public records investigation has shown some interesting connections between Okun, Ishbia, and Casa.
In 2016, Okun created Premier Processing, a mortgage-financing company, then quickly handed the company’s reins over to Casa. Was that always the plan? Was it some kind of corporate sleight of hand or a hostile takeover?
The paperwork for Premier Processing, LLC was filed in Michigan on January 22, 2016, by attorney Philip Cwangenberg. The business was registered at 251 E. Merrill St, Suite 212, Birmingham, MI, the same address as Mat Ishbia’s father’s law firm, Ishbia & Gagleard, P.C., where Cwangenberg worked as an attorney. Okun was authorized to represent the company with the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) until her registration expired last year.
Premier was registered to operate in almost all 50 states in 2016. Those initial registrations list Okun as a manager and use the mailing address 770 Adams, Suite 104, Birmingham, MI – the same address as Shore Mortgage (now United Wholesale Mortgage).
In August of the following year, a trust agreement pertaining to the transfer of Premier Processing to UWM was executed, just days before Casa’s bankruptcy case was discharged. Later, in 2019, Casa helped establish ECWIN, LLC which entered into an agreement with Premier to assume two-thirds of the ownership. Casa then began appearing as a manager on state registration documents for Premier Processing.
A leaked purchase agreement for the Premier deal indicates that $500,000 was paid for the transfer of ownership, and all of Okun’s state broker licenses started expiring in 2020.
Interestingly, this aligns with the period when Casa was head of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME). AIME is a nonprofit Casa claimed did not pay him a salary, and from which he was forced to resign after making what Housing Wire called “lewd and sexist videos” about a competitor’s wife. A woman he had never met.
The trail of paperwork and plotlines leads to some problematic questions for the industry:
Does Okun consider herself part of the UWM “family?” Was this all part of the original plan? Or was she muscled out of her company through dirty tricks?
Or, and this is the most fascinating question of all, does Suzanne Okun even exist?