DISBARRED ATTORNEY CONVICTED OF MORTGAGE FRAUD SCHEME
ROBERT ERNEST BRANDT, 42, a former Kirkland attorney and escrow officer, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Seattle yesterday of Conspiracy and four counts of wire fraud. The jury deliberated approximately one day following an eight day trial. When sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones on June 25, 2010, BRANDT faces up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The federal case was indicted in June of 2008, as part of Operation Malicious Mortgage, and the overall investigation was conducted jointly with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Kirkland Police Department.
According to records in the case and testimony at trial, over a dozen people, including BRANDT, were linked to an extensive mortgage fraud scheme operating in 2004 and 2005. Those who have already pleaded guilty in the scheme include a former bank employee, mortgage brokers, as well as the owner of shell companies involved in “flipping” dozens of properties as part of the fraud.
Ten members of the scheme were charged, six in federal and four in state court. All of the charged defendants pleaded guilty except for BRANDT. A number of the charged co-conspirators testified at trial. These included William Anderson, 49, of Bellevue, who worked at the same escrow company as BRANDT and operated some of the shell companies involved in the purchases. Anderson admitted conspiring with BRANDT and Mustafa “Marc” Khosraw, 48, a real estate agent and mortgage broker; Kristyn Jupiter Moss, 40, a branch manager for Viking Bank; Zachary Joseph Namie, 32, a loan officer with a mortgage company; and Patrick Williams, (prosecuted in state court) who recruited straw buyers, found properties, and provided false employment verifications to the lenders.
The conspirators would identify houses and would use shell companies or third parties to purchase the homes. At the same time they recruited “straw buyers” who would enter into a purchase agreement to buy the same home from the conspirators at an inflated price (a “flip”). The conspirators assisted the straw buyers with phony paperwork for the home loans, making it appear that they were qualified for the mortgage loans and planned to occupy the houses. Members of the conspiracy allegedly falsified numerous documents including appraisals, verifications of deposits, employment verification and closing documents. In fact, the conspirators simply split the proceeds from the fraudulent mortgages, and the straw buyers defaulted on the loans after pocketing as much as $20,000 for their fee. The homes were foreclosed and financial institutions and mortgage lenders suffered substantial losses, estimated to exceed $7 million dollars.
For his part, BRANDT ran a company called “Escrow Authority,” that closed all of the sales of the flipped properties. He permitted other members of the scheme to use money out of his lawyer’s trust account to acquire properties. The same properties were then quickly resold to straw buyers for significantly higher prices, and fraudulent loans were obtained to finance the fictitious resales. BRANDT also helped create shell companies used as part of the scheme, and signed off on fraudulent settlement statements (HUD forms) provided to lenders that failed to disclose the fraudulent nature of the transactions. BRANDT was disbarred in 2006, after the Washington State Bar Association concluded he had allowed the improper use of his client trust account in the mortgage fraud scheme, and had improperly engaged in transactions in which he had a conflict of interest.
In asking the jury to find BRANDT guilty, Assistant United States Attorney Vince Lombardi urged jurors to do two things: “follow the money;” and evaluate the lies BRANDT told under oath to try to cover up his role in the scheme.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) and the Kirkland Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Vincent T. Lombardi and Nicholas W. Brown.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at(206) 553-4110. For more information on Operation “Malicious Mortgage,” please review the Department of Justice Website at http://www.usdoj.gov/ .