U.S. Attorney's Office
Northern District of Georgia
(404) 581-6000
December 18, 2015

Lead Defendant Sentenced in $5.8 Million Mortgage Fraud Ring

ATLANTA—Chiedu “George” Chukwuka has been sentenced in connection with his lead role in a mortgage fraud ring that spanned five years and caused millions in losses. Chukwuka, along with his co-defendants and other co-conspirators, engaged in a massive property-flipping scheme resulting in over $5.8 million in actual losses to financial institutions between 2006 and 2011.

“At the height of the recent mortgage-fraud crisis, this property-flipping scheme caused scores of homes to fall into foreclosure, costing financial institutions millions of dollars in losses,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “Many communities in our district have been decimated by mortgage fraud during the last 15 years and even now struggle to recover from the effects of these schemes.”

“The sentencing of Mr. Chukwuka brings to a close a lengthy investigation and prosecution of a criminal enterprise that targeted the banking industry through their prolific mortgage fraud schemes. Mr. Chukwuka, considered by law enforcement and prosecution to be head of this enterprise, caused extensive damage with high loss amounts to those victim banks involved. The FBI is pleased with the role it played in bringing about this sentencing to federal prison of Mr. Chukwuka as well as the previous sentencings of his co-defendants in this matter,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.

According to U.S. Horn, the charges and other information presented in court: Chukwuka, along with his co-defendants and co-conspirators, recruited straw buyers to purchase homes at a discounted price, typically a bank-owned or distressed property. The group then recruited a second straw buyer to purchase the same home at a dramatically inflated price. In turn, Chukwuka, his co-defendants and co-conspirators applied for an acquisition loan for the second straw buyer, supporting the loan application with false income, fake employment, and fraudulent net worth data.

The group profited from their scheme by pocketing the acquisition loan proceeds paid by the victim bank to the straw seller (who was the straw purchaser in the first transaction). The amount of profit was the difference between the price paid by the straw purchaser in the first transaction and the price paid by the straw purchaser in the second transaction, less transaction costs. Since none of the straw purchasers made any significant loan payments, the targeted properties usually went into foreclosure, resulting in over $5.8 million in actual losses to financial institutions between 2006 and 2011.

Chiedu “George” Chukwuka, 47, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. to serve nine years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,868,243.80. Chukwuka was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on August 10, 2015, after he pleaded guilty.

The following five defendants also pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme, and were previously sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. as follows:

  • Shelly Gee, a/k/a Shelly Baker, 48, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on November 10, 2015, to one year, six months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,243,909.99. Gee was convicted after pleading guilty on June 17, 2015.
  • Sandra Petgrave, 43, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was sentenced on December 4, 2015, to one year, six months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,051,970.77. Petgrave was convicted after pleading guilty on August 18, 2015.
  • Kennedy Simmonds, 54, of Snellville, Georgia, was sentenced on December 17, 2015, to three years, ten months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,868,243.80. Simmonds was convicted after pleading guilty on July 6, 2015.
  • Marcelle Welch, 37, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was sentenced on December 17, 2015, to two years, three months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,554,189.25. Welch was convicted after pleading guilty on July 29, 2015.
  • Leah Freeman, 43, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on December 17, 2015, to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,828.532.94. Freeman was convicted after pleading guilty on June 19, 2015.

In a related case, Chinedum Oli, 42, of Snellville, Georgia, was sentenced on February 19, 2013, by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Marvin H. Shoob to five years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $4,373,281.63. Oli was convicted after pleading guilty on October 9, 2012.

These cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant United States Attorneys Jamie L. Mickelson and Steven D. Grimberg prosecuted the cases.

This announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

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