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Montgomery County Pastor And Three Others Convicted Of Running Massive Mortgage Scheme

(Credit: Thinkstock)

(Credit: Thinkstock)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A Montgomery County pastor and three others have been convicted of engaging in a scheme to defraud Chase Manhattan Bank by fraudulently obtaining home loans of more than $6 million.

Officials say Michael Wilkerson, the pastor of New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship, recruited several congregants and their families and friends to act as “straw purchasers” in a number of real estate transactions for properties in Schwenksville and Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. If they were successful in signing loan documents as the purchaser of a home, Wilkerson would then pay them $15,000. He would also pay another $5,000 if those straw purchasers then referred others to him.

Authorities say Wilkerson was able to recruit at least six people this way, and that once the individuals agreed, Denise Haines, a mortgage broker with American Group Mortgage Corporation, would then submit the fraudulent loan applications to Chase Manhattan Bank.

Wilkerson’s wife, Joyce, also pleaded guilty in the scheme for writing out the checks to the “straws” and pretended to be a co-purchaser of each of the homes at settlement.

Lee Garell, a real estate broker who pleaded guilty as well, prepared the sales paperwork.

Additionally, authorities say the defendants were able to manipulate the documents so that all the money involved at settlement actually came from Chase Manhattan – not the purchasers. The defendants then shared the fraudulent sales.

After settlement, Michael Wilkerson took possession of the homes, rented at least two of them and lived in another. He paid the mortgages with the proceeds from the fraudulent mortgage transactions and with rental income for approximately six months, then told his straw purchasers they had to pay the mortgages. The homes then fell into foreclosure.

Michael Wilkerson and Denise Haines are scheduled for sentencing on June 3 and June 17 of 2013, respectively. If convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 180 years in prison, as well as fines of up to $6 million.

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