Tina Marie Palagi, 44, Great Falls, Montana, appeared for sentencing in Great Falls Federal Court on March 24, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon. Palagi was sentenced to a term of 57 months in prison, consecutive to a state sentence, a Special Assessment of $200, Restitution in the amount of $44,525, and Supervised Release for 3 years. Palagi was sentenced in connection with her guilty plea to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
In October of 2008, Palagi, using the name Tina Presley, approached Elysium Investments LLC, Phoenix, Arizona, for a short-term loan. Elysium is a hard-money lender. Hard money lenders are lending companies offering a specialized type of real-estate backed loan. Hard money lenders provide short-term loans (also called a bridge loan) that provide funding based on the value of real estate that has been collateralized for the loan. Hard money lenders typically have much higher interest rates than banks because they fund deals that do not conform to bank standards.
In her application for funding, Palagi used the name of a 79-year-old Great Falls resident, P.H., and used P.H.’s financial and personal information to misrepresent her identity and credit worthiness to secure an $8,100 loan, allegedly to close escrow on a real estate purchase. Palagi represented that her own assets were currently illiquid and could not be accessed to complete the transaction. On October 23, 2008, Palagi represented that she had access to $12,000,000 in assets to secure the loan. Palagi had stolen P.H.’s financial records and faxed a 2008 account statement to Elysium as part of the loan application. Palagi altered the documents to show a fictitious contact – a relative of Palagi‘s – along with a copy of P.H.’s driver’s license. Palagi represented that P.H. was her biological mother and that Palagi had access to $400,000 in P.H.’s account. Palagi then forged the alias name, P.H., on the promissory note.
Palagi represented to Elysium that she had inherited her fortune upon the death of her sister.
On October 23, 2008, Elysium wire transferred $8,100 to Palagi. According to the terms of the loan agreement, Palagi was to repay $12,150, by October 24, or $16,200 by October 27. Elysium sent Palagi and P.H. a Notice of Default and Demand for Payment on October 28.
Palagi also used P.H.’s credit card account information on two occasions to receive cash advances for a total of $600, and on one occasion to pay Palagi‘s Verizon bill for $1,000.
Palagi also responded to a solicitation on October 10, 2008, posted by T.L., a resident of Alamo, Nevada. T.L. sought a hard money lender for a $300,000 loan. Palagi represented that she had the funds available, and T.L. expressed his willingness to pay $50,000 down for the first year’s payments on the loan. Palagi faxed P.H.’s stolen financial records, 2008 DA Davidson account statement, and other forged Davidson documents misrepresenting her financial situation and creditworthiness to T.L. She also represented that she had another $10,000 in an Oklahoma account from a deceased sister which would become available in a few months if T.L. needed an increase at that time. Palagi and T.L. entered into a loan contract on October 21, 2008, for the principal sum of $300,000.
Palagi then contacted T.L. asking for the $50,000 down payment immediately to make a payment on a real estate deal. Claiming an emergency, Palagi asked T.L. to help find funding and guaranteed a 100% Return on Investment within 2 weeks.
On October 23, 2008, T.L. took out a $20,000 loan from Elysium with a promised return of $40,000, using his home and his family’s land as security. T.L. then wire transferred $6,500 of the loan to Palagi. The loan was due and payable on November 3, 2008. Palagi failed to produce the funds for repayment and T.L. defaulted on the loan.
In November 2008, Palagi utilized the internet to post ads on www.craigslist.com representing that she could provide clients that had bad credit with a non credit score backed American Express card with a $100,000 limit for a initial fee of $500 for processing. Two weeks after the fee was received, the clients were to receive a CPN number with an American Express in the client’s name. Upon receipt of the card, the clients would be required to pay a back-end fee of 20% to the card guarantor. Five victims were reported to have fallen for this fraudulent scheme by Palagi. One victim, K.T., wrote Palagi a check for $500 on November 26, 2008, and the check cleared on December 5, 2008. Palagi received $2,500 from the clients and failed to deliver the cards or to honor requests for refunds.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the “truth in sentencing” guidelines mandate that Palagi will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, Palagi does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for “good behavior.” However, this reduction will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.
The investigation was conducted by a cooperative effort between the Homeland Security Investigations and the Great Falls Police Department.
The United States Attorney’s Office announced the sentence.