CHARLOTTE, NC – September 24, 2012 – (RealEstateRama) — Nine defendants have been charged in the latest takedown in the Operation Wax House mortgage fraud investigation in the Western District of North Carolina, announced U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; and Jeannine A. Hammett, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
A second superseding indictment in the Western District of North Carolina charging six defendants with federal offenses including mortgage fraud conspiracy, bank bribery conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and wire fraud was returned by a federal grand jury sitting in Charlotte on September 19, 2012, and was unsealed today in U.S. District Court. Three additional defendants were charged separately by criminal bills of information accompanied by plea agreements.
The mortgage fraud and bank bribery conspiracies alleged in the superseding indictment represent part of an ongoing investigation, Operation Wax House, conducted by the FBI and IRS-CI into mortgage fraud targeting the Mecklenburg and Union County communities of North Carolina’s Western District.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Tompkins stated, “Mortgage fraud makes a mockery of the American dream, devastates neighborhoods, and wreaks havoc on our financial system. We will continue to go after those responsible and bring them to justice.”
“This long-term investigation is proof of the FBI’s commitment to protect the nation’s economy by exposing these types of complex fraud schemes and holding those who perpetrate them accountable. Mortgage fraud is not a victimless crime, it devastates families, and we will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of wrongdoing,” said Special Agent in Charge Briese with FBI’s Charlotte Division.
IRS-CI’s Special Agent in Charge Hammett stated, “Mortgage fraud creates a significant loss of tax revenue, drives buyers into foreclosure, leaves lenders burdened with bad loans and neighborhoods with abandoned and deteriorating properties. IRS-CI is committed to pursuing individuals who create such havoc.”
According to allegations contained in the charging documents, from about 2006 through about 2007, a mortgage fraud cell was operating in Union and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina, primarily targeting the neighborhoods of Providence Downs South, Woodhall, Chatelaine, Firethorne, Piper Glen, and Stratford on Providence. Operations of the mortgage fraud cell, according to the charges, began when a promoter would agree with a builder to purchase a property at the “true price.” The cell would then arrange for a buyer to purchase the property at an inflated price. In most circumstances, the buyer would agree to purchase the property in his or her own name and sign whatever documents were necessary, in exchange for a hidden kickback. The builder would sell the property at the inflated price, the lender would make a mortgage loan on the basis of that inflated price, and the difference between the inflated price and the true price would be extracted at closing and distributed among the conspiracy, according to the allegations contained in the indictment.
Individuals and entities participating in the alleged mortgage fraud activities included promoters, mortgage brokers, lawyers, real estate agents, builders, and buyers. The bill of indictment also describes a bank bribery conspiracy to bribe a bank insider to provide false verifications of deposit and an embezzlement scheme by Attorney Michelle Mallard from her trust account.
The nine defendants bring to a total of 50 the number of individuals charged to date in connection with Operation Wax House. The six charged in the superseding indictment are:
- Chris T. Belin, 33, of Sumpter, South Carolina, is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Belin participated as a real estate agent and promoter in the scheme. Status: To report for arrest and initial appearance.
- James E. Fink, 42, of Waxhaw, North Carolina, is a builder involved in the scheme and is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Status: Expected to appear for initial appearance upon a summons.
- Jimmy Hitchcock, 41, of Raleigh, is charged with mortgage fraud, bank bribery, and money laundering conspiracies. He was a promoter in the scheme. Status: Currently in federal custody pending detention hearing.
- Mitzi Jackson, 39, of Charlotte, a bank insider, is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and bank bribery conspiracy. Status: To appear for initial appearance upon a summons.
- Michelle V. Mallard, a/k/a Michelle V. Crawford, 45, of Montgomery, Alabama, an attorney involved in the scheme, is charged with mortgage fraud and money laundering conspiracies and wire fraud. Status: Scheduled to appear for arraignment upon a summons.
- Coley Scagliarini, 38, of Charlotte, is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Scagliarini was a mortgage broker involved in the scheme. Status: Released following arrest and initial appearance.
The three defendants charged by criminal bills of indictment and who have agreed to plead guilty to the charges are:
- Arketa Banks, 31, of Sylva, North Carolina, a buyer in the scheme, was charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy. Status: To appear for initial appearance upon a summons.
- Jeffrey Viegas, 38, a builder from Charlotte, was charged with bank fraud. Status: To appear for initial appearance upon a summons.
- Bonnette Bradley, 44, from Charlotte, who participated as a broker in the scheme, was charged with bank fraud. Status: To appear for initial appearance upon a summons.
The mortgage fraud conspiracy charge in the indictment carries a maximum prison term of 30 years. The bank bribery conspiracy charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison. The money laundering conspiracy charges carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison and the wire fraud charge carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The mortgage fraud conspiracy charge in the bills of information carries a maximum term of five years in prison.
The charges contained in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. In addition, the guilty plea of any other person is not relevant to the guilt of any indicted person.
Operation Wax House in the Western District of North Carolina is being handled by the FBI and IRS-CI for the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The prosecution for the government is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Kurt W. Meyers and Maria K. Vento of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory, and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state, and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions, and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
The names and case numbers of the defendants charged in Operation Wax House are listed below, organized by their alleged role in the scheme.
Attorneys and Paralegals
Crawford/Mallard, Michelle 3:11cr374
Gates, Christine 3:09cr100
Norwood, Kelli, 3:09cr162
Rainer, Demetrius 3:08cr239/241
Smith, Troy, 3:08cr264
Brown, Jamilia, 3:10cr124
Eason, Danyelle, 3:10cr116
Henson, Vic. F., 3:10cr124
Jackson, Mitzi, 3:11cr374
Ramey, Bonnie Sue, 3:10cr124
Builders and Sellers
Fink, James, 3:11cr374
Jackson, Jennifer, 3:09cr241
Smith, Kelvis, 3:12cr238
Viegas, Jeffrey, 3:12cr298
Wood, Gary, 3:09cr208
Facilitators and Financiers
Hickey, Denis, 3:09cr103
McClain, Landrick, 3:10cr124
Panayoton, Sherrill, 3:11cr176
Taylor, Alicia Renee, 3:10cr124
Wilson, Willard, 3:09cr161
Banks, Arketa, 3:12cr297
Hillian, Kirk, 3:12cr83
Mathis, Charles, 3:10cr1
Mobley, Sarena, 3:10cr124
Richards, Dan, 3:10cr119
Tyler, Glenna, 3:11cr200
Bradley, Bonnette, 3:12cr299
Clarke, Linda, 3:10cr120
Flood, Ericka, 3:10cr124
Scagliarini, Coley, 3:11cr374
Staton, Walter, 3:10cr113
Woods, Joseph, 3:09cr178
Real Estate Agents
Belin, Chris, 3:11cr374
Clark, Christina, 3:09cr44
Wood, Gary, 3:09cr208
Willis, Anthony, 3:09cr218
Darden, Clinton 3:10cr108
Carr, Stephen, 3:10cr124
Clarke, Reuben, 3:10cr120
Coleman, Gregory, 3:10cr118
Hitchcock, Jimmy, 3:11cr374
Jones, Tyree, 3:10cr230
Marshall, Michael, 3:07cr283
McPhaul, Elizabeth, 3:10cr114
Perry, Kim, 3:10cr25
Phillips, Rick, 3:10cr115
Sharreff-El, Drew, 3:10cr124
Sherald, Kiki, 3:10cr117
Simmons, Aaron, 3:09cr240
Snead, Todd, 3:10cr124
Staton, Lisa, 3:10cr113
Western District of North Carolina