Friday, October 7, 2011

Philly Feds Pinch Pastor In Straw Buyer Mortgage Fraud Scam; Suspect's Criminal Track Record Indicates 'Man Of Cloth' Had Trouble Telling Truth

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

  • A former television evangelist who served prison time before starting a church in Chester County was charged Thursday by federal authorities with engaging in a $6.4 million mortgage-fraud scheme.

  • Michael Wilkerson, 45, is pastor of the New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship, with centers in Spring City and Phoenixville. He also owned the Agape Development Co., which said it developed real estate.

  • According to an indictment returned Thursday, Wilkerson recruited several church members and their families to act as "straw" purchasers of houses in Schwenksville and Glenmoore. If they had good credit, and could sign loan documents and pose as home buyers, Wilkerson would pay them $15,000, prosecutors said. He promised them $5,000 more if they corralled other straw purchasers, prosecutors said.

  • Wilkerson is accused of overstating the net worth of the congregants on the loan applications. Based on the fraudulent paperwork, Chase Manhattan Bank issued loans, most of which were for more than $1 million each, to the straw buyers, the indictment says.

  • Investigators said that after each settlement, Wilkerson, his wife, and two others manipulated the closing documents. The congregants were listed as co-owners of the newly purchased properties with the pastor's wife, Joyce.

  • The Wilkersons then took possession of the homes, living in one and renting out four others. The pastor allegedly paid the mortgages with rental income for about six months, then told the straw purchasers that they had to start paying the mortgages. The loans fell into default and then foreclosure, resulting in a loss of approximately $3 million, prosecutors said.

  • Joyce Wilkerson was charged along with her husband, as were Denise Haines, a mortgage broker, and Lee Garell, a real estate broker. If convicted, each defendant faces a sentence of up to 180 years, five years' supervised release, and a fine of up to $6 million.

  • Michael Wilkerson served three years in prison for a 2002 conviction in the duping of contractors who were building his Berks County mansion, the Pottstown Mercury reported.

  • Last month, he was convicted of a felony count for writing a bad check for $111,000 to a Fort Washington Mercedes-Benz dealer. At the time of his arrest in that case, in 2009, he was still on parole.

Source: Pennsylvania pastor accused in $6.4M fraud.

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