Thursday, September 29, 2011

Closing Agency Owner Gets 3+ Years For Snatching Escrow Cash; Took $200K To Buy Out Prior Owners; Says 'I Didn't Steal The Loot, I Only Borrowed It!'

In Missoula, Montana, the Ravalli Republic reports:

  • The owner of a Florence escrow company will spend 3 1/2 years in prison and be required to pay close to $500,000 in restitution after being convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. Stacey M. Hebuck, 37, of Florence, pleaded guilty earlier this month before U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy in a plea agreement that dropped seven additional counts.

  • Court records said Hebuck manipulated financial transactions associated with five different real estate closings handled by her company, New Pinnacle Title LLC, and its predecessor, Pinnacle Title and Escrow, between June 2008 and January 2009.

  • Hebuck was charged with diverting funds obtained by the escrow companies into her personal bank accounts. The diverted funds were wired to banks outside of Montana.

  • Rather than spending the money to pay off existing mortgages, Hebuck used the money to buy a $31,000 pickup truck, $41,000 horse trailer and $17,000 for facial plastic surgery. She also used $90,000 to pay off her parent's mortgage on land at Seeley Lake.

  • The first $200,000 she diverted while still an employee of Pinnacle Title and Escrow was spent to buy the business from its previous owners.(1)

  • In some cases, Hebuck continued to make monthly mortgage payments on loans that were supposed to be closed. Twice she paid the entire balance on mortgages with smaller payoff amounts.

  • When investigators interviewed Hebuck about the fraud in February 2009, she admitted the essence of what she'd done, but referred to her actions as "business practices." She told investigators she planned pay off all five loans as her business grew.

  • In a written statement, Hebuck said she felt she was borrowing the money, not stealing it.

For the story, see Florence woman sentenced to prison for fraud, money laundering.

(1) Go here for the Notice of Proposed Action from the office of the Montana insurance regulator containing more details about Hebuck's antics, including the fact that she had a previous felony conviction in California for welfare fraud, and the fact that, in ripping off the escrow account of $200K+ to buy out the escrow agency owners, she took ownership of the outfit under her sister's name.

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