News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Defrauded Lenders Using Straw Buyers and Phony Information on Loan Applications

April 1, 2011

MARK STEVEN ASHMORE, 43, of Bellevue, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to six years in prison, five years of supervised release and $904,000 in restitution for conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud. ASHMORE was convicted in September 2010, following a six 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. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones called the scheme a huge mortgage fraud operation. “Three words that come to mind regarding the nature of the offense: greed, lies, and manipulation,” Judge Jones said.

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 buyer’s 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 their sentencing memo prosecutors called ASHMORE the power behind the scheme that resulted in nearly $7 million in losses for banks and financial institutions. ASHMORE “was the primary actor behind this scheme. He recruited his co-conspirators, multiple straw buyers, and was far more involved than any other participant. This scheme would not have existed without the Defendant’s strong leadership role..... Countless individuals have had their financial lives destroyed by the Defendant,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

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.



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