North Carolina Man Sentenced to Prison on Fraud Charges Involving Hundreds of Victims
Admitted to Defrauding Timeshare Owners
A North Carolina man, who previously lived in Frederick County, Virginia, was sentenced today on federal wire fraud conspiracy charges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia.
Michael Dean Kent, 58, of Franklin, North Carolina, was sentenced today to serve 63 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon in the Western District of Virginia. In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon ordered Kent to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $ 557,542.50 in restitution. Kent previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“Michael Dean Kent orchestrated a reprehensible advance-fee scheme that defrauded hundreds of innocent victims who were simply trying to sell their timeshares,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “The sentence in this case demonstrates that fraudsters like Kent will be aggressively pursued, held accountable, and pay a significant price for their crimes.”
“Mr. Kent victimized hundreds of individuals through fraudulent business dealings that cost his victims thousands of dollars,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “I know today’s sentencing does not make these victims whole, but I hope it does provide some solace. Our office will continue to work with our state and local partners to investigate and prosecute individuals who engage in this type of fraudulent activity.”
According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, between 2014 and 2017, Kent and his co-conspirators targeted hundreds of victims across the United States who owned interests in timeshare properties. Kent, and others, made false representations, by phone and email, to convince the victims to sign property transfer contracts and to send currency under false pretenses for property sales that would never take place.
Kent admitted that during this time, he and his co-conspirators represented themselves to be employed at two different companies, The Holiday Property Group LLC and Vacation Properties by Owners LLC. Kent incorporated both entities, served as the principal of both, operated both and took significant steps to make both appear legitimate. Kent, and his coconspirators, established websites, paid for commercial post office boxes in various states, paid for memberships in business rating organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, applied for and received a federal tax identification number, and had corporate credit and debit cards in the names of the businesses.
Kent further admitted that after identifying timeshare owners, who later became his victims, Kent and his co-conspirators introduced the victims to another co-conspirator who posed as the “buyer” by assuming a false identity that included a different name and email address. The co-conspirator, posing as the buyer, communicated with the victim by phone and email and agreed to purchase the victim’s property, often at the asking price. They would tell the victim they were going to use The Holiday Property Group/Vacation Properties by Owners for the sale. The same “buyer” was in contact with multiple victims at one time.
Kent also admitted that he and his co-conspirators then contacted the victim to inform them they needed to send The Holiday Property Group/Vacation Properties by Owners money, typically between $500 and $1,500, to cover costs associated with the sale, such as “closing costs” or resort “transfer fees.” Kent fraudulently represented that any fees would be held in escrow, and were refundable at any time. In fact, the fees received were not held in escrow, but instead were deposited into bank accounts that Kent used to pay his own personal expenses, pay for expenses needed to continue the scheme, or to pay his coconspirators for their role in the criminal scheme.
Kent admitted that throughout the course of this conspiracy, he and his coconspirators caused losses of over $550,000 from the victims they targeted.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Trial Attorney Andrew Tyler of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin M. Kulpa of the Western District of Virginia prosecuted the case.