Mortgage Fraud Unit in Prince George's Goes After Lawyers, Loan Officers, Others
By Laurie White
Assistant State's Attorney April Richardson and Sgt. Ted Jones say they are trying to protect county residents against housing crimes. (Maryland Newsline photo by Laurie White)
Special Report Main Page
Friday, Nov. 21, 2008
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office hopes to send a message to potential perpetrators of mortgage fraud: "Not in this county."
Operating since September, the office's new Mortgage and Foreclosure Division is hoping to bring 20 cases to indictment soon, said Assistant State's Attorney April Richardson.
Richardson said the division is moving forward against loan officers, title companies, lawyers and brokerages thought to have participated in mortgage scams.
Sgt. Ted Jones, a former investigator with the county’s homicide division, was hired along with Richardson as part of what Maryland Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has called a “posse” that will protect citizens from housing crimes. Jones said these crimes should not be taken lightly.
“There is very little difference, if any, between a bad guy who robs you of your money at gunpoint and one who steals your home from you,” he said. “I think stealing someone’s home is worse. You’re talking about robbing them of a basic need – a place to live.”
Homeowners facing foreclosure are easy targets for criminals because of the financial trauma they’re going through, Jones said.
“Often it’s a smooth-talking guy or a woman who has a professional persona who says, ‘We can help. This is what my company does,’ ” he said. “At the 11th hour, you just want to hear a friendly voice, any voice that’s saying they can help you and allow you to stay in your house for a year.”
Jones said the division has been swamped with inquiries from residents, following publicity and community forums in the county this fall.
Indictments Brought Against County Residents
By Laurie White
Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - Two Prince George's County residents were indicted last week on 10 counts each of theft, fraud and violations of the Protection of Homeowners in Foreclosure Act.
Nathaniel Lorenzo Wright, 37, of Lanham, and Aaron Timothy Bowe, 40, of Upper Marlboro, face charges related to a falsified foreclosure recovery deal, said Doyle Niemann, assistant state’s attorney for the county's Economic Crimes Unit.
If convicted, each face up to 30 to 45 years in prison, he said.
Attempts to contact Wright and Bowe for comment were unsuccessful. And no defense counsel has been named for either man, said Ramon V. Korionoff, spokesman for Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey.
Niemann said Peggy Washington of Oxon Hill contacted Wright and Bowe in late 2005 when they claimed to be foreclosure consultants. They offered to refinance her home on Deale Avenue in Oxon Hill, use the proceeds to pay off her debts, and eventually re-sell the home to her, Niemann said.
Charges against the pair allege they recruited “straw buyer” Kadinya Johnson of Waldorf to purchase the home without Washington’s knowledge, promising her a real estate investment and a nominal fee, Niemann said. They exaggerated her income on loan documents to purchase the home, did not pay the mortgage, pocketed $90,000, and the house went into foreclosure in early 2008, Niemann said. Washington lived in the home until then.
“Ms. Washington thought her credit was being helped, and Ms. Johnson thought she was learning how to be an investor,” Niemann said.
Johnson contacted the Mortgage and Foreclosure Division for assistance, Niemann said. “Her life has been ruined, her credit's been ruined,” he said.
Niemann said the case could go to trial in about three months.
Jones said he and Richardson conduct an initial telephone screening with complainants and then require them to submit a written summary of their situation.
“It gives them an opportunity to relive the facts, and I can poke holes in their story and see if it’s really fraud or if they’re so emotionally charged … they are just thinking that they’re victims,” Richardson said.
In cases of fraud, the paperwork tells the story, Richardson said.
“Sometimes I don’t even need to hear from (the perpetrator),” she said. “I listen to the client’s story, and there is no explanation for why a homeowner didn’t get [his or her] $89,000 at closing. … I don’t know anyone that’s struggling that just gives $90,000 as a gift to a stranger.”
Richardson and Jones say they are quick to tell people when fraud is not the issue.
“I’m a shoot-from-the-hip kind of girl, and I will look them in the eyes and say, ‘This is just a bad decision,’ Richardson said. “ ‘You got caught up.’ ”
She said that teamwork will be required to reduce Prince George’s County’s foreclosure rate over the long term.
“If we get (loan) servicers to respond more fairly to homeowners that are in these loans that they should not have been in, then I think we’ll actually get somewhere,” she said. “But in order to do that there has to be a moratorium on foreclosures, hands-down.”
She said that homeowners must also take responsibility and learn about their options, and that the county should not give money to reinstate mortgages, an act she says would be a “Band-Aid” on a wound that will bleed again.
“There has to be homeowner accountability,” she said. “I sincerely believe that a lot of people who have gotten into these crazy exotic loan products, if you really track their finances, they have not necessarily made proper financial decisions before.”
Richardson said that offenders will be held accountable.
“The message is strong,” she said. “We are taking the most egregious cases first, and then we’re taking the small ones, to show these guys: ‘We’re going to get you, too.”