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Politician Expected Kickback From AZ Mortgage Broker

Property assessor provided list of reverse mortgage prospects to Colonial Mortgage

June 16, 2004

By PATRICK CROWLEY


The friendship between Kevin Ross and Fred Kelly started nearly a decade ago over a beer, before Ross was elected county property assessor in Maricopa County, Ariz.

It likely ended earlier this month -- if not before -- with what looks to be damaging information Kelly has given in the state criminal investigation of Ross.

On May 27, an Arizona Grand Jury indicted Ross, 42, on three felony counts of conflict of interest and obstructing criminal investigations.

Ross, a Republican elected in 1996 who is running for reelection in the state's September GOP primary, is accused of seeking political and personal kickbacks for providing confidential taxpayer information to a mortgage broker.

He also accused of trying to cover-up the alleged scheme, according to court documents and a written statement from Arizona Attorney General's office.

Court documents show that Ross has plead not guilty. He could not be reached to comment and his lawyer, John Hannah of Phoenix, did not return phone calls to comment.

Ross did issue an e-mail statement earlier that was carried in several published reports, including the East Valley Tribune, which covers communities in and around Phoenix.

"My credibility and my integrity have been challenged," Ross said in the statement. "I have nothing to hide. If anyone thinks I'm not going to stand up and fight these charges with everything I have for as long as it takes, then they don't know me at all."

The Attorney General's office alleges that Ross provided Colonial Mortgage and Investments Inc. of Phoenix a compact disc (CD) of confidential information.

The CD contained a private government list of about 15,000 senior citizens who qualify for a tax break known in Arizona as "The Senior Property Value Protection Act," the attorney general said.

People on that list were then solicited for reverse mortgages, a popular mortgage product among senior homeowners, the attorney general alleges.

"The list contained personal and financial information considered confidential, and not available for public disclosure," the attorney general said. "The indictment alleges that Ross provided this confidential information to the mortgage company."

Kelly, Ross' chief deputy, told investigators that Ross expected to receive $1,000 in campaign contributions in return for providing the list, according to an attorney general's investigative report reviewed by MortgageDaily.com.

The attorney general's office also alleged that Ross was looking for financial kickbacks for providing the list of potential customers.

"Ross provided the information with the understanding that the mortgage company would solicit reverse mortgages from persons identified on the disk, and Ross would be paid a commission for every reverse mortgage that resulted with the solicitations," the attorney general's office said.

Ross faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

Kelly told investigators that he first met Ross in a Tempe, Ariz., bar in 1996. Kelly eventually went to work for Ross as his chief deputy.

Over the years Kelly said Ross complained that his salary of $54,000 a year was too low and he talked often of returning to the mortgage business, where he had worked prior to winning elective office.

In addition to giving interviews Kelly has also provided investigators with information on Ross' alleged activities.

"Kelly said that he has never viewed himself as a secret agent and has never been more than a reluctant listener," the report says.

Ross was looking over his shoulder. Kelly told investigators that he had the assessor's office electronically checked for listening devices and would hold some conversations outside.

"Ross is so concerned about bugs that about six months ago Ross had the office swept," Kelly said in the report.


Patrick Crowley is a political reporter and columnist and former business writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Email Patrick at: [email protected]

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