News and Press Releases

Defrauded Lenders Using Straw Buyers and Phony Information on Loan Applications

September 20, 2010

MARK STEVEN ASHMORE, 42, of Bellevue, Washington was convicted today in U.S. District Court in Seattle of conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud following a five day jury trial. The jury deliberated about four hours before returning the guilty verdict. ASHMORE was one of four people indicted in November 2009, for a mortgage fraud scheme that damaged Pierce Commercial Bank and other lenders. Three of the defendants pleaded guilty and testified at the trial. ASHMORE faces up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones on December 17, 2010, as well as potentially millions of dollars in restitution to the victims of the scheme.

According to records in the case and testimony at trial, ASHMORE conspired with others to recruit straw buyers to purchase homes in the Seattle area. ASHMORE worked with buyers to put false information on the loan applications regarding the buyers employment, income and plans to live in the house. Based on the false information, lenders approved loans for the property purchase. The loans on the properties frequently totaled more than the seller’s asking price – the excess amount was retained by ASHMORE and his co-conspirators. The properties were quickly sold or “flipped” to another straw buyer, at an even higher price, with the excess amount going to ASHMORE. Ultimately, ASHMORE failed to make the mortgage payments and the loans went into foreclosure. Pierce Commercial Bank ultimately closed its home loan business and came under increased scrutiny from state and federal regulators because of the badly damaged loan portfolio.

In closing argument Assistant United States Attorney Aravind Swaminathan told the jury, ASHMORE “caused others to lie for a reason, because otherwise the straw buyers would not qualify for the loans...” Mr. Swaminathan pointed out that in one instance, ASHMORE manufactured a fraudulent letter and a check for the sole purpose of making the straw buyer appear qualified for the loan.

“If it sounds like a scam, looks like a scam and operates like a scam, it’s a scam,” Assistant United States Attorney Nicholas Brown told the jury. “He admitted lying for loans, and that is what this case is about, lying for loans.”

This case was prosecuted as part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nicholas Brown and Aravind Swaminathan.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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