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Former appraiser gets four years for role in mortgage fraud scheme

NationalMortgageProfessional.com
Mar 01, 2010

United States Attorney A. Brian Albritton has announced that U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. has sentenced Barry C. Westergom of Jacksonville, Fla. to four years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud. The court also ordered restitution in the amount of $866,141.62 and entered a money judgment for $100,000, the amount that Westergom had obtained from the fraud. Westergom had pleaded guilty on Oct. 8, 2009. According to court documents, during 2004 and 2005, Westergom’s co-conspirator, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, contracted to purchase about 55 houses. Gonzalez retained Westergom, who was a licensed real estate appraiser, to appraise most of the properties. Westergom then fraudulently inflated the appraisals, valuing each property at a significantly higher price than the negotiated purchase price. Westergom knew that Gonzalez intended to submit the appraisals to lenders in support of mortgage loan applications in which the inflated appraisal value was listed as the purchase price. The lender was not informed that the price listed in the transaction documents was higher than the actual price negotiated with the seller. Gonzalez also submitted fraudulent financial documents and information, including altered bank statements and payroll records, to the lenders in support of the loan applications. At each closing, Gonzalez received the difference between the loan amount, which was based on the inflated appraisal, and the actual purchase price, and Westergom received commissions and fees. Westergom's plea agreement details one transaction in which Westergom, acting as a buyer’s agent for Gonzalez, negotiated with a seller to purchase a house for $490,000. Westergom then fraudulently appraised the house for $625,000. Gonzalez submitted first and second mortgage loan applications for the house reflecting a sales price of $625,000. Gonzalez also submitted altered bank account statements showing significantly larger cash balances in the account than actually existed. The lender approved the loans and, at the closing, Gonzalez received $134,000, which was listed on closing documents as an "Assignment of Contract Fee." Westergom received $12,250 as a broker’s fee and $550 as an appraisal fee. The conspirators’ fraudulent acts resulted in lenders extending more than $29,272,000 in first and second mortgage loans. Westergom received a total of about $100,000 in commissions and fees. Gonzalez received $6,296,303.65 from the scheme. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison on Nov. 5, 2009. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold B. Corsmeier. It was brought as part of the Middle District of Florida’s Mortgage Fraud Surge, a joint effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tampa and Jacksonville Divisions, and numerous other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Surge focused intensive investigative and prosecutorial resources on the mortgage fraud crisis that plagues middle Florida and has contributed to the current economic situation nationwide. The Surge accelerated mortgage fraud cases to bring perpetrators to justice quickly and provide maximum deterrence, and it was the first step in an ongoing effort to prosecute mortgage fraud of all types throughout the Middle District. For more information on the Middle District of Florida’s Mortgage Fraud Surge, please contact Steve Cole, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office.  For more information, visit http://jacksonville.fbi.gov.
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