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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attorney Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Defrauding Investors of more than $17 Million and for Obstructing Grand Jury Proceedings


Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Gregory E. Grantham, age 57, of Oceanside, California, today to five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for a wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice. Judge Motz also ordered Grantham to forfeit/ pay restitution of $17.4 million.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Kelly of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office.

Grantham is a licensed attorney and between September 2009 and September 2011, was employed as General Counsel for IAGU Underwriters, LLC, as well as maintaining a private law practice. Graham’s co-defendant, Mervyn Phelan operated IAGU, which was in the business of underwriting loan applications submitted by real estate developers and then locating project financing from banks and other financial entities.

According to his plea agreement and court documents, between mid-2010 and August 2011, Grantham and Phelan became involved in a fraudulent scheme carried out by Patrick Belzner and Brian McCloskey, who both resided in Baltimore County. McCloskey owned a real estate development business known as the McCloskey Group, LLC. Belzner, a home builder, began working with McCloskey in late 2008 or early 2009. Phelan and IAGU began working with the McCloskey Group trying to locate sources of financing for its projects in about 2009.

Beginning in 2009 and continuing through June 2011, Belzner and McCloskey persuaded a series of private lenders to fund loans to establish that the McCloskey Group had reserves of cash that would supposedly help it obtain loans it was seeking in connection with real estate development projects through IAGU. Belzner and McCloskey falsely represented that the funds would be maintained in an escrow account under the control of Kevin Sniffen, a licensed attorney and escrow agent in Baltimore County; that the funds would not be used for any other purpose; and that the money would be returned to the lender, either upon the funding of the loan or after a specified period of time. In return for this temporary use of the lender’s funds, Belzner and McCloskey promised to pay substantial fees or interest. In fact, once the lenders transferred their funds into the escrow accounts, Belzner directed McCloskey to remove those funds from the escrow accounts without the knowledge or permission of the lenders. Belzner and McCloskey then used the majority of the stolen funds to pay for their personal and business expenses. The total losses resulting from the scheme were approximately $20 million.

Beginning in about the late summer of 2010, Grantham and Phelan co-operated with Belzner and McCloskey in their scheme to defraud by (1) making false representations to help persuade private lenders and investment partnerships to loan sums of money to the McCloskey Group for the purposes of meeting “liquidity” requirements imposed by IAGU or various prospective lenders and to place these funds in an escrow account controlled by Kevin Sniffen; and by (2) making false representations to dissuade previous escrow account lenders from demanding the return of their funds when the original time period established for the loan expired without the McCloskey Group obtaining financing for the project in question. In particular, Phelan and Grantham repeatedly advised various escrow account lenders that funding on a particular project was imminent when they knew this was not the case, and in one case represented that they were holding millions of dollars in escrow funds tendered by one group of lenders when this was not true.

At today’s sentencing the Court determined that Grantham was responsible for $17.4 million in losses as a result of the scheme.

Grantham and Phelan also obstructed grand jury proceedings from September to December, 2012, while a grand jury in Maryland was continuing the investigation of the fraud scheme. On September 26, 2012, FBI agents served Grantham and Phelan with grand jury subpoenas which called for the production of documents relating to the scheme. By this time, Belzner had already been indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and this fact was publicly known. Grantham and Phelan agreed that they would not produce certain records in their possession, because those records would reveal their cooperation with and assistance to Belzner and McCloskey in providing false information to the escrow account lenders and their counsel. The records that Phelan and Grantham were willing to produce were provided to the FBI on November 19, 2012; incriminating records were not produced or were deleted from their computers and compact discs.

Patrick J. Belzner, a/k/a “Patrick McCloskey,” age 45, of Selbyville, Delaware, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and tax evasion, and was ordered to $19.805 million in restitution. Brian McCloskey, age 42, of Baltimore and Kevin Sniffen, age 53, of Phoenix, Maryland have each pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and are scheduled to be sentenced on December 12, 2014, and December 19, 2014, respectively. Mervyn A. Phelan, Sr., age 74, of Newport Beach, California, has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 5, 2014.

Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI and IRS – Criminal Investigation Division for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Jefferson M. Gray and Kathleen O. Gavin, who are prosecuting the case.

Updated January 27, 2015