Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Operation Wax House" Takes Down Charlotte Mortgage Fraud Cell

The FBI's Charlotte Division, together with the Criminal Investigation department of the IRS, are conducting an ongoing investigation into mortgage fraud and bank bribery in Charlotte. The investigation is known as "Operation Wax House" and targets Mecklenburg and Union Counties. Nine new defendants have been indicted on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy.

An indictment was unsealed on Monday that revealed six defendants were charged with money laundering, conspiracy, mortgage fraud conspiracy, bank bribery conspiracy, and wire fraud charges on September 19. Additionally, three other defendants were separately charged by information provided through the plea agreements of others.

The group is accused of taking part in a mortgage fraud cell that was operating in the Charlotte region. The scheme involved builders, promoters, lawyers, buyers, mortgage brokers, and real estate agents. The scheme essentially worked by granting a mortgage based on an inflated home price given by the builder. The involved parties then split the difference between the actual price and the inflated price once the home was sold.

The latest defendants charged in the investigation are:

33 year-old Chris T. Berlin of Sumpter, SC
42 year-old James E. Fink of Waxhaw, NC
41 year-old Jimmy Hitchcock of Raleigh, NC
39 year-old Mitzi Jackson of Charlotte, NC
45 year-old Michelle V. Mallard / Michelle V. Crawford of Montgomery, AL
38 year-old Coley Scagliarini of Charlotte, NC

The following defendants have agreed to plead guilty to their charges:

31 year-old Arketa Banks of Sylva, NC
38 year-old Jeffrey Viegas of Charlotte, NC
44 year-old Bonnette Bradley of Charlotte, NC

In all, Operation Wax House has now charged 50 people in connection to the investigation, which is part of an initiative created by President Obama which included the creation of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force in 2009. The task force is in place to to fight back against financial criminals across the United States.