Straw-Buyer Trio Guilty of Bank Fraud
Three Ohio residents pled guilty this week to conspiracy to commit bank fraud with real estate loans during the course of a straw-buyer scam running from 2005 through 2007. According to the Department of Justice, licensed real estate agent Todd Gongwer, along with Lance Parker and Joel Lee -- all residents of Ohio -- purchased luxury homes for falsely inflated prices from real estate builder Thomas Parenteau in exchange for kickbacks. Parenteau's trial, along with those of his immediate associates, begins July 2009. The trio will not be sentenced until after that case is concluded. According to the plea agreements and evidence presented during the hearings, in each transaction, the buyers misrepresented their income and assets in order to obtain approximately 90% financing of the inflated purchase price in what is commonly known as a straw-buyer scam. The buyers, Parenteau and his realtor, Bonnie Helt, justified the inflated purchase prices by creating and signing false work orders, among other claims, which creates the appearance that the inflated prices represent additional work to be completed on the homes. However, according to presiding judge Michael Watson, neither of the three intended to fulfill any of the renovations and did not disclose required documents to the lenders. All of the loans associated with the real estate purchases of Gongwer, Parker and Lee defaulted -- a hallmark of the straw-buyer scam. "The object of each transaction was to use the loan proceeds in excess of the actual purchase price to fund hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickback payments to the buyers," the Department of Justice wrote in a press statement. Gongwer and Parker also admitted to conducting a similar transaction involving Parker’s purchase of 15 condominium units in three buildings located in Columbus, Ohio, from Parenteu’s associate and architect, William Tarcy. Tarcy, himself, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and agreed to forfeit assets related to the offense in March 2009. Gongwer accepted responsibility for causing a fraud loss between $2.5m and $7m, while Parker and Lee each accepted responsibility for causing a fraud loss between $400,000 and $1m. The sentencing of all three defendants is set to occur after the July 2009 trial of Tom Paranteau, his accountant Dennis Sartain and his realtor Bonnie Belt, who were charged in April in a tax fraud and money laundering scheme. Gongwer and Parker each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Lee faces a maximum of sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Write to Kelly Curran.