Cuyahoga indictments target nine former Argent Mortgage employees
[[Update 1: Removes Citigroup reference]] A Cleveland-area grand jury indicted nine former employees of subprime lender Argent Mortgage alleging the workers, which included managers and supervisors, played a role in approving fraudulent subprime home loans, according to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office. The felony charges claim Argent employees and four others, including real estate appraisers, engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft and tampering with records, according to the indictment. Argent — formerly the wholesale lending arm of now defunct Ameriquest — was one of the biggest subprime lenders in the Cleveland area from 2003 to 2005, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. No one connected with Argent could be located for comment. Inner-city neighborhoods in Ohio's Cuyahoga and Summit counties, which are home to Cleveland and Akron, became the epicenter for the 2007 subprime crisis, that was attributed, in part, to predatory lending practices in poor, minority neighborhoods, and a frenzy in the mortgage industry to approve loans for anyone who had a pulse as housing heated up. The indictments allege Argent account managers coached mortgage brokers on falsifying 100 loan applications with misstated information such as income level or the existence of a down payment. The loans were valued at $13 million. “The securitization and selling of these fraudulent subprime loans on Wall Street typified the rampant greed of the industry that ultimately led to the financial crisis," said Bill Mason, Cuyahoga County prosecutor. "The buyers and mortgage brokers, or loan officers signed these loan applications with the knowledge that this information was required to be true when in fact these applications were false," the indictment said. Argent "approved the loans for funding knowing that the stipulations for such loan approval had not been met by falsely stating in mortgage loan documents that said stipulations had been satisfied by the buyer, broker or another person when in fact the stipulations had not been satisfied," according to the indictment. The mortgages were later securitized and sold to unsuspecting investors, according to the prosecutor's office. The investigation grew from a Cuyahoga County case recently prosecuted against Uri Gofman, a real estate investor and owner of Cleveland-based Real Asset Fund LLC, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Gofman and 40 co-defendants were indicted in a $44 million mortgage fraud case in 2009. He was recently convicted in that case and was scheduled to be sentenced this week. "To induce, encourage or promote the sale of the above properties Uri Gofman promised the buyers that there would be no down payment required to purchase property and the buyer would be receiving money back at closing," according to the indictment on the most recent case. Besides the down payment scheme, the indictment also alleges appraisal fraud. Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.