An attorney closing agent from Plantation, Florida, has been acquitted of 13 federal counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud after a 10-month trial before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. She was accused of taking part in a $7.9 million mortgage loan scam headed by a Broward County real estate developer and several straw buyers, who have pled guilty in the case.
The mortgage fraud scheme was discovered as part of Operation Stolen Dreams, the largest-ever mortgage fraud takedown effort initiated by the federal government. According to prosecutors, between 2006 and 2008, the real estate developer recruited numerous straw buyers from South Florida in order to buy up vacant lots in North Florida at the height of the real estate bubble.
Working with the real estate developer, the straw buyers falsified down-payment and income information on mortgage applications and artificially inflated the purchase prices of the vacant lots. The Plantation attorney acted as the closing agent on all of the transactions.
Federal prosecutors argued the attorney’s ignorance of the fraud may have been willful, but they could not prove it
Prosecutors were unable to produce any witnesses at the federal criminal trial who could verify that the lawyer was aware of the frauds. The 55-year-old woman has been a practicing attorney for 25 years and has no criminal or professional complaints in her background.
At trial, federal prosecutors argued that even if the attorney did not know of the ongoing bank fraud scheme, she was “deliberately ignorant” and therefore responsible for her part in falsifying the mortgage documents.
The woman’s criminal defense lawyers told jurors that she was duped, just as the mortgage lenders were.
After a grueling ten months of trial, a federal jury decided that the woman was innocent of all charges.
Source: The Miami Herald, “Federal jury acquits Plantation attorney in mortgage fraud case,” Toluse Olorunnipa, April 22, 2011