Nationwide crackdown on mortgage fraud includes 39 defendants, 140 properties in Oregon

By Steven Dubois, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

39 Oregon defendants in US mortgage fraud probe

PORTLAND, Ore. — A nationwide crackdown on mortgage fraud — dubbed “Operation Stolen Dreams” — includes 39 defendants and 140 properties in Oregon.

Dwight Holton, U.S. attorney for Oregon, said Thursday the 39 people have been charged, pleaded guilty or have been sentenced since March 1. They include a dozen people involved in the collapse of Desert Sun Development.

Banks reportedly lost more than $19 million after lending money to the company in Bend for commercial and residential projects, some of which were never built.

The FBI in Oregon has received almost 5,000 reports of fraud since the height of the housing market in 2006, Holton said. Many of the investigations remain active, and additional federal indictments are expected.

“There are as many schemes as there are con artists,” Holton said.

The national probe includes 1,215 criminal defendants in cases that involve more than $2.3 billion in losses. It focused on higher-level players, not the neighbor who lied on a mortgage application.

In many Oregon cases, Holton said, a property’s selling price was falsely inflated. Those fake prices were used as comparables for both legitimate and illegitimate transactions, contributing to the bubble that put home ownership out of reach for many median-income families.

Fifteen of the 39 defendants were lending and real estate professionals, including mortgage brokers, real estate agents, a bank loan officer and a certified public accountant. In the Desert Sun case, an inspector lied when he said buildings were going up as scheduled on lots that were actually vacant.

“It’s amazing how broad this has been,” said David Tatman, administrator for the state Department of Consumer & Business Services.

In Washington state, the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle has prosecuted $100 million in mortgage fraud cases since late 2006, said spokeswoman Emily Langlie.

In one recent case, a 37-year-old former Washington resident was convicted in federal court in Seattle for his involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that cheated banks and property sellers out of more than several million dollars. William Poff, 37, of Marshall, Mich., faces up to 30 years in prison for 30 felony counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering offenses.

A bench warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear at his sentencing in Seattle on Monday.

Holton said many of the crimes highlighted Thursday are the “hangover” from the bubble days. Investigators, he said, have increasingly turned their attention to “rescue fraud,” when people prey on troubled homeowners with deals too good to be true.

will not be displayed