FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
July 21, 2011
A Georgia man was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud conspiracy that involved dozens of properties and $7.5 million in loans, said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Romero Minor, 52, of Macon, Georgia, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and several counts of wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Patrician A. Gaughan sentenced him to 69 months in prison.
"This sentence sends a clear message about the seriousness of mortgage fraud," Dettelbach said. "The criminal tools might be forged documents and fudged appraisals, but these crimes have real victims. One need only look around the neighborhoods devastated by mortgage fraud to see that.
"The Youngstown Mortgage Fraud Task Force demonstrates a strong commitment from federal, state and local agencies to combating this scourge," Dettelbach said.
Between 2003 and 2006, Minor organized a mortgage fraud scheme involving 48 properties located throughout Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, in which Minor and defendant Wendell Kerr ("Kerr") used entities created by Minor, Minor Ministries and BFB Investments, to recruit "straw buyers"/"investors" (individuals who applied for mortgage loans to purchase properties with no intention of making the properties their primary residences or keeping the properties as investments) to "purchase" these properties in their names, according to court documents.
Minor represented to the straw buyers/investors that he needed individuals like them with good credit to "purchase", or apply for mortgage loans on, properties in their names as a way of helping other individuals in the community with bad credit who could not purchase homes in their own names, according to court documents.
Minor informed the straw buyers/investors that after he purchased these properties in their names, he would enter into a "rent-to-own" agreement with one of the individuals from the community with poor credit in order to help that individual improve his/her credit score by renting the property for a year. Minor represented to the straw buyers/investors that he would collect the rent from these individuals as tenants in the properties, pay the mortgages and taxes for the properties, and maintain the properties for the straw buyers/investors for approximately a year, at the end of which time he would sell the property to the tenant after his/her credit score improved and the property would be transferred out of the straw buyer's/investor's name, according to court documents.
However, Minor did not assist any individuals with poor credit, nor did he enter into any "rent-to-own" agreements. Instead, Minor conspired with the loan officers, defendant Robert Lunsford, as well as Roy Root and Dwayne Townsend, individuals previously charged by way of information, to prepare and submit fraudulent mortgage loan applications to various mortgage lenders knowing that they contained false information with regard to the straw buyers/investors in order to secure mortgage loans on the 48 properties, according to court documents.
The mortgage loan applications were submitted in the names of straw buyers/investors containing false information including, but not limited to: the straw buyers'/investors' income, their assets, whether the property would be used as their primary residence, and the source of their down payment funds. Minor had the properties appraised and financed at values far beyond what the properties were worth, which he did with the assistance of the appraisers Timothy Corey and Damon Petrich, according to court documents.
Once the lenders were induced to approve and fund the loans based on the fraudulent loan applications, Minor received thousands of dollars at closing from the mortgage proceeds with the assistance of the title agents, defendants William Helbley and Michael Wagner, according to court documents.
The defendants' fraudulent conduct induced Argent Mortgage Company, LLC, Aegis Mortgage Corporation, America's Wholesale Lender, First Franklin Financial Corporation, BNC Mortgage Incorporated, Concorde Acceptance and New Century Mortgage Corporation to fund the mortgage loans.
The victim companies suffered a total loss of more than $2 million as a result of the defendants' scheme.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark S. Bennett and Special Assistant United States Attorney Micah Ault of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, following an investigation by the Youngstown Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which is made up of the Cleveland Division, Youngstown Resident Agency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General, the Ohio Department of Commerce - Division of Financial Institutions, the Ohio Attorney General Office's Special Prosecutions Unit and Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and the Mahoning County Sheriff's Office.