Operation Wax House Nets Charges Against 9 More Defendants

Allison Tussey —  September 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

Nine defendants have been charged in the latest takedown in the Operation Wax House mortgage fraud investigation in the Western District of North Carolina.

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, North Carolina, on September 19, 2012, in U.S. District Court. Three additional defendants were charged separately by criminal bills of information accompanied by plea agreements.

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, 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, Sumpter, S.C., is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Belin participated as a real estate agent and promoter in the scheme.

James E. Fink, 42, Waxhaw, N.C., is a builder involved in the scheme and is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Jimmy Hitchcock, 41, Raleigh, N.C., is charged with mortgage fraud, bank bribery and money laundering conspiracies. He was a promoter in the scheme.

Mitzi Jackson, 39, Charlotte, N.C., a bank insider, is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and bank bribery conspiracy.

Michelle V. Mallard, a/k/a Michelle V. Crawford, 45, Montgomery, Alabama, an attorney involved in the scheme, is charged with mortgage fraud and money laundering conspiracies and wire fraud.

Coley Scagliarini, 38, Charlotte, N.C., is charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Scagliarini was a mortgage broker involved in the scheme.

The three defendants charged by criminal bills of indictment and who have agreed to plead guilty to the charges are:

Arketa Banks, 31, Sylva, N.C., a buyer in the scheme, was charged with mortgage fraud conspiracy.

Jeffrey Viegas, 38, Charlotte, N.C., a builder, was charged with bank fraud.

Bonnette Bradley, 44, Charlotte, N.C., who participated as a broker in the scheme, was charged with bank fraud.

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.

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; Gates, Christin; Norwood, Kelli; Rainer, Demetrius; and Smith, Troy.

Bank Insiders

Brown, Jamilia

Eason, Danyelle

Henson, Vic. F.

Jackson, Mitzi

Ramey, Bonnie Sue

Builders and Sellers

Fink, James

Jackson, Jennifer

Smith, Kelvis

Viegas, Jeffrey

Wood, Gary

Facilitators and Financiers

Hickey, Denis

McClain, Landrick

Panayoton, Sherrill

Taylor, Alicia Renee

Wilson, Willard

Buyers

Banks, Arketa

Hillian, Kirk

Mathis, Charles

Mobley, Sarena

Richards, Dan

Tyler, Glenna

U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins announced the charges.

U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making the 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).

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 the 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.”

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.

The 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’s 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.

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Allison Tussey

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