Former Lawyer Admits Role in $40.8 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme
CAMDEN, NJ—A former N.J. lawyer today admitted he conspired to participate in a scheme that caused lenders to release $40.8 million based on fraudulent mortgage loan applications and conspired to launder the proceeds of the fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Joseph W. Witkowski, 68, of Flemington, N.J., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas in Camden federal court to an indictment charging him with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Witkowski, a former attorney, was released on bail.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Witkowski and his conspirators located oceanfront condominiums overbuilt by financially distressed developers in Wildwood Crest, N.,J.; premier real estate in vacation destinations in Georgia and South Carolina; and properties in New Jersey owned by financially distressed homeowners facing foreclosure. They then recruited “straw buyers” – people with good credit scores but lacking the financial resources to qualify for mortgage loans – to purchase those properties.
Witkowski and his conspirators created false documents, including fake W-2 forms, income tax returns, investment statements, and rental agreements, to make the straw buyers appear more creditworthy than they actually were. They also established numerous telephone lines for companies owned by some of the conspirators so that when a lender contacted the telephone number, the conspirators could falsely verify that a straw buyer was employed by the company listed on his or her fraudulent loan application.
Witkowski also caused fraudulent mortgage loan applications in the name of the straw buyers and supporting documents, which attributed to the straw buyers inflated income and assets, to be submitted to mortgage lenders. Once the loans were approved and the mortgage lenders sent the loan proceeds in connection with real estate closings on the properties, Witkowski and his conspirators had some of the funds wired or checks deposited into various accounts that he and his conspirators controlled.
To date, 10 of Witkowski’s conspirators have pleaded guilty to participating in this mortgage fraud conspiracy, including Charles Harvath, Stephen F. Corba Jr., John Siuszko, Michael Williams, William Brown, Mark Kreischer, Crystal Brame, Aku I. Muhammad, George Lachenmayr Jr. and Robert Serao.
The wire fraud conspiracy charge to which Witkowski pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Witkowski has agreed to forfeit $2,412,899, representing the proceeds of the fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 14, 2014.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Carrig of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden.
Defense counsel: Maggie Moy Esq., Assistant Federal Public Defender, Camden