Jennifer McCall, 48, Fort Washington, Maryland, the Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Money Store, was sentenced to 135 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme that falsely promised to help homeowners facing foreclosure keep their homes and repair their damaged credit. A judgement was also entered ordering McCall to pay restitution of $16,880,884.86.
Co-conspirator Wilbur Ballesteros, 34, Lanham, Maryland was also sentenced to 63 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. Ronald Aaron Chapman, Jr., 35, Washington, D.C., was sentenced to seven days in prison, 10 months of home detention with electronic monitoring and five years of supervised release. Both men previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for their roles in the scheme. Judgements were also entered ordering that Ballesteros and Chapman pay restitution of $16,859,950 and $268,279.66, respectively.
As previously reported on Mortgage Fraud Blog, according to her plea agreement, McCall was a licensed mortgage broker, but was not licensed to provide credit repair. In May 2005, McCall and Joy Jackson incorporated Metropolitan Money Store, located in Lanham, Maryland, which offered foreclosure consultation and credit services to financially distressed homeowners. Also at that time, McCall, Jackson, Jackson’s husband, Kurt Forham, and McCall’s husband, Clifford McCall and other co-conspirators incorporated Fordham & Fordham Investment Group, Ltd. (F&F) and Burroughs & Smythe Financial Services, Inc. (B&S), based in Lanham and Greenbelt, Maryland, to assist Metropolitan Money Store in its foreclosure consulting and credit servicing business.
From September 2004 to June 2007, Jackson, McCall, Ballesteros, Chapman and others conspired to fraudulently promise to help homeowners, who had substantial equity in their homes but were facing foreclosure because of their inability to make monthly mortgage payments, avoid foreclosure and repair their damaged credit. The homeowners were directed to allow title to their homes to be put in the names of third party purchasers (the straw buyers) for a year, during which time Metropolitan Money Store promised to improve the homeowners’ credit ratings, help them obtain more favorable mortgages, and eventually return title to their homes to them. The homeowners were told that the equity withdrawn from the properties would be used to pay the mortgage and expenses on their homes and to repair their credit. The straw buyers were paid up to $10,000 to participate in the scheme and allow the properties to be put in their names. Jackson also served as a straw buyer on several properties in Maryland.
Using the homeowners’ properties, the conspirators applied for mortgages to extract the maximum available equity from the homes, and prepared and submitted fraudulent loan applications to mortgage lenders to obtain inflated loans on the target properties in the straw buyers’ names. At settlements, the conspirators imposed numerous fees and required “seller contributions” which were far in excess of industry standards; they imposed fees for services which were not performed, disclosed or explained to the homeowners; and they transferred the sale proceeds out of the escrow accounts into the conspirators’ business and personal bank accounts and converted a substantial portion of those funds to their personal use.
To carry out the fraud scheme, Jackson, McCall and others obtained large cashier’s checks in the names of straw buyers and Metropolitan Money Store employees to conceal transactions from the lenders. Jackson and McCall misappropriated the license and bond numbers of other brokerage and credit repair companies and used them to broker loans and fraudulently improve homeowners’ credit scores by adding fictitious lines of credit to their credit histories.
During the conspiracy, Jackson and McCall provided Ballesteros, a licensed real estate agent who served as a closing agent on more than 60 straw buyer properties, with more than $100,000 in kickback payments to process real estate closings quickly. Moreover, whenever Jackson or McCall requested, Ballesteros permitted Metropolitan Money Store employees to close loans without him or any other closing agent being present. Jackson and McCall directed others to prepare fraudulent settlement documents that contained false information. Jackson and Kurt Fordham also paid bank employees to provide false income balances for straw buyers to lenders; add straw buyers and others onto accounts for lender verification purposes; transfer money into accounts to show a certain amount of money was in a bank account and thereafter return those funds to the original account; and shift money between Metropolitan Money Store and F&F accounts to facilitate loans in straw buyer’s names.
In September 2005, Chapman was hired to work as a loan officer for MMS, although he did not have any experience in the mortgage or financial services fields. Chapman was paid a commission based upon a percentage of each loan that he closed and received at least $66,870 from Jackson drawn on the fraudulently obtained equity transferred into accounts controlled by other conspirators. Victim homeowners directed title companies to disburse proceeds of sales of their homes to RAC Investment Property LLC, a company Chapman owned and operated. Chapman and others caused at least a total of $268,279 in equity proceeds from mortgage loans to be wire transferred into Chapman’s RAC Investment bank account. Chapman was aware that the commissions received from Jackson and MMS and the funds that were deposited into RAC Investment Property LLC’s bank account, were probably the proceeds of fraud, but he deliberately avoided learning the truth as to the fraudulent nature of the funds.
Finally, Jackson and McCall directed others to transfer the equity proceeds of homeowners into the general checking accounts of Metropolitan Money Store and F&F, as well as Jackson and McCall’s personal accounts. Jackson and McCall withdrew these funds and paid for goods and services for themselves, including art, cars, clothing, credit card bills, homes, fur coats, furniture, airline trips, gambling expenses, jewelry, limousine services, student tuition and a luxury wedding for Jackson and Kurt Fordham.
As a result of this scheme, the total loss attributable to Jennifer McCall, including the estimated losses to the mortgage lenders, is $16,880,884.86; the total loss attributable to Ballesteros’s conduct in the scheme, including the estimated losses to the mortgage lenders, is $16,859,950; and the total loss attributable to Chapman’s conduct in the scheme is between $200,000 and $400,000.
“Jennifer McCall and her co-conspirators falsely claimed that they were in business to help financially distressed homeowners, when in fact they operated a ‘money store’ that was in the business of ripping off homeowners and mortgage lenders by submitting fraudulent paperwork to support over $37 million of loans that were never intended to be repaid,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
“IRS-Criminal Investigation is united with the rest of the law enforcement community in our resolve to financially disrupt those that commit crimes against our society and the economy,” stated C. André Martin, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge. “IRS-Criminal Investigation is committed to pursuing individuals who create such havoc.”
Ten defendants, including a lawyer, mortgage broker, real estate agent, loan processor and company officers have pleaded guilty in this scheme. Joy Jackson, 41, Fort Washington, Maryland, and President of the Metropolitan Money Store was sentenced to 151 months in prison Jackson’s husband, Kurt Fordham, 39, also of Fort Washington was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his participation in the scheme. On September 14, 2009, Judge Titus sentenced Richard Allison, 38, of Camp Springs, Maryland, an attorney and employee of the U.S. Census Bureau who provided legal services to MMS, F&F and Burroughs & Smythe, to 18 months in prison; and Carlisha Dixon, 32, of Hyattsville, Maryland to five months in prison and five months home detention. On October 5, 2009, Judge Titus sentenced Jennifer McCall’s husband, Clifford McCall, 48, of Lanham, Maryland to four years in prison and Jennifer McCall’s daughter, Chandra Jones, 31, of Lanham, Maryland, to 33 months in prison. Katisha Fordham, Kurt Fordham’s sister, was sentenced to 1 day in prison, followed by five months home detention and five months supervised release.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Division of Financial Regulation Investigative Unit for their investigative work. Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorneys James A. Crowell IV and Christen Sproule, who prosecuted the case.