Mastermind in $15 million Wildwood real estate fraud scheme pleads guilty - Breaking News - Press of Atlantic City

Mastermind in $15 million Wildwood real estate fraud scheme pleads guilty - Breaking News - Press of Atlantic City

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Mastermind in $15 million Wildwood real estate fraud scheme pleads guilty

Updated

The alleged mastermind of a $15 million mortgage fraud scheme in the Wildwoods admitted conspiring to defraud financial institutions and launder stolen funds, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishmancq announced.

Timothy D. Ricks, 45, of East Orange (Essex County), the owner of EZ Go Financial Corp. in Edison, Sussex County, was one of 11 arrested by the U.S. Attorney’s Office last July in a case that included an attempted murder charge.

The July 2012 arrests included Seth A. Fuscellaro, a Wildwood Crest attorney who was serving as Lower Township’s public defender at the time; Angela L. Celli, a former real estate agent in North Wildwood; and Nancy E. Wolf-Fels, a Forked River real estate broker.

Most have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial but Fishman said Ricks and Orlando Allen, 47, of Fayetteville, Ga., who provided real estate investors for the scam, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Allen pleaded guilty to the charges on Feb. 20 while Ricks did so on Wednesday. They both face a maximum prison term of 30 years for wire fraud along with a $1 million fine and 10 years for money laundering with a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Ricks is scheduled for Nov. 8 while Allen will be sentenced on Aug. 8.

The case involved condominium units in Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood as well as other locations in New Jersey and Florida. Beginning in 2006, Ricks was the mastermind for locating oceanfront condominiums in a real estate market that was saturated with too many units and not enough buyers. In some cases the developers were under financial stress.

Authorities said they would negotiate a buyout price that was much lower than what they listed as the sale price to ensure large proceeds.

“Other defendants helped conceal the true sales prices of certain properties through inflated sales contracts and sale and finder’s fee agreements,” Fishman said.

Ricks and Allen both recruited “straw buyers” to purchase the properties, which on paper were at the inflated sales prices. The straw buyers, who had good credit ratings but did not have the financial resources to make such purchases, were paid up to $17,000 merely for the use of their name.

Fishman said false documents, including fake W-2 forms, pay stubs, bank statements, HUD-1 settlement statements and other false investment statements, were created to bolster the buyer’s credit and convince lenders to make the loan.

Authorities said the scheme also included mortgage applications that the brokers involved in the scam knew were fraudulent. Once mortgages were approved, Ricks and the alleged accomplices had the lenders send or wire the money.

“Ricks and his conspirators took a portion of the proceeds, having funds wired or with checks deposited into various accounts they controlled. They also distributed a portion of the proceeds to other members of the conspiracy for their respective roles,” Fishman said.

The purchasers never made a deposit, paid closing costs or made a mortgage payment. When mortgages were not paid, the lending institutions were left holding a bad loan, though in some cases the federal government backed the loan so taxpayers ultimately picked up the tab.

The scam began in 2006 and continued into 2008. It’s been under investigation since 2008. There are numerous other co-conspirators who were not indicted and are merely listed in court documents by their initials, according to court records. The indictment of Fuscellaro and Celli alleges they helped negotiate condominium deals and concealed the true sales price of the properties. Both were charged with wire fraud.

The FBI also questioned several law partners of Fuscellaro last year, including Ron Stagliano and David DeWeese, who lost a close state Senate race to Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, in 2011. DeWeese said he fully cooperated with the FBI.

The scam revolved around several condominium developments, including Bahama Breezes and The Dunes in Wildwood Crest along with Erin Shores Condominiums and Surf Avenue Condominiums in North Wildwood. Other units were in other areas of New Jersey and a few were in Naples, Fla.

In some cases, several lending institutions contributed. At Bahama Breeze Condominiums, Unit 203, drew $412,477 from Challenge Financial Investors of Petersburg, Fla. and another $124,362 from National City Bank of Indiana.

Defendant Kinard J. Henson, of Alabama, was charged with attempted murder after hiring someone — identified in court papers by the initials R.S. — to shoot one of the straw buyers, identified as L.B., to prevent L.B. from testifying. The plot was allegedly hatched in Ocean County. The straw purchaser was shot multiple times in a wooded area near Mobile, Ala., but survived.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

RDegener@pressofac.com