Fraudster Homebuilder Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison For Defrauding Investors Of $19.805 Million And Evading $2.6 Million In Taxes
“The Sentence Fits the Crime”
Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz today sentenced Patrick J. Belzner, a/k/a “Patrick McCloskey,” age 45, of Selbyville, Delaware to 15 years in prison followed, by three years of supervised release, on charges of wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and tax evasion. Judge Motz also entered an order that Belzner pay $19.805 million in restitution.
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.
“This lengthy sentence fits the crime," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "This was a longstanding and complex fraud scheme perpetrated by experienced con artists.”
According to Belzner’s plea agreement and court documents, from the fall of 2009 through August 2011, Belzner, a home builder, worked for a real estate development business known as the McCloskey Group, which was owned by another home builder named Brian McCloskey. During that time, Belzner conspired with McCloskey; Kevin Sniffen, a Maryland title company attorney; Mervyn Phelan, who held the title of “Senior Underwriter” with a California loan brokerage company named IAG; and Gregory Grantham, a California attorney who was the legal counsel of IAG, to defraud investors through a fraudulent investment scheme.
Specifically, Belzner and the conspirators advised wealthy individuals and investment advisers that in order for the McCloskey Group to obtain large loans for various real estate projects through IAG, it was necessary for the McCloskey Group to deposit substantial sums of money in an escrow bank account to establish that it had cash reserves or “liquidity.” Belzner and his co-conspirators, including Phelan and Grantham, further represented to potential lenders that it was acceptable for the McCloskey Group to borrow these funds. They also represented that the funds would be maintained under the control of Sniffen, a licensed attorney and escrow agent; would not be used for any other purpose; and that the money would be returned to the investor, either upon the funding of the loan or after a specified (and usually relatively short) period of time if the loan did not fund by the expected date. In return for this temporary use of the investor's funds, Belzner and McCloskey promised to pay potential lenders substantial fees or interest.
Contrary to these representations, Belzner admitted that he instead directed McCloskey to remove the investors’ funds soon after they had been deposited into the escrow account. Belzner and McCloskey then used the stolen funds to pay for their personal and business expenses, as well as to make partial repayments to earlier lenders, to pay fees to some of the victim investors to keep them from demanding the return of their money, and to pay IAG for its supposed work and expenses in attempting to locate financing sources. Belzner also directed McCloskey and others to use some of the stolen escrow funds to make payments to other individuals from whom Belzner alone had borrowed money in the past.
Belzner and his co-conspirators attempted to conceal the fraud by providing lenders with false bank statements reflecting that the funds received were still being held in the escrow account; falsely representing in emails and in telephone conversations that the funding of the loans sought by the McCloskey Group and the return of the lenders’ funds was imminent; or by making “extension” payments to lenders in return for being allowed to hold their funds for a longer period than originally promised. Belzner also wrote scripts for other conspirators to use in telephone conversations or written or email communications with the escrow account lenders and their counsel in order to lull them into believing that their funds were safe and would be returned to them as promised.
The court determined today that Belzner and his conspirators' fraudulent scheme caused losses in excess of $19.805 million to more than 26 victim investors.
“Many people think financial crime is victimless, but this case proves that is simply not true. What makes this investigation particularly disturbing is that Mr. Belzner manipulated, lied to and stole from his friends and next-door neighbors. He took money from hardworking, trusting people and then heartlessly flaunted his theft in front of his victims,” stated Steve Vogt, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore Division. “Mr. Belzner has shown no remorse for his crimes, and deserves to sit in prison reflecting on what his own greed cost his family and friends.”
Belzner also pleaded guilty to evasion of assessed tax payments. In 1995, 1996 and 1998, Belzner stole $1,111,304.78 from his employer at the time, and in 1998, he stole $186,146.71 from another employer, none of which he reported as income on his tax returns for those years. A subsequent IRS audit of those tax years resulted in the assessment of additional taxes, interest and penalties against Belzner of $1,150,935.25 for the 1995 and 1996 tax years and $246,424.50 for the 1998 and 1999 tax years.
To avoid paying those taxes, Belzner admitted that between January 2006 and June 2011, he intentionally concealed income and assets from the IRS and made no payments on his tax debt. For example, Belzner placed his residences, other real estate and automobiles in the names of corporations that he formed. Belzner paid his personal expenses, including his mortgage, ground rent for a vacation home, construction costs on a house that he built, car payments, Ravens season tickets, and private school tuition from bank accounts he opened in the names of the corporations or from payments out of McCloskey Group accounts. Belzner used individuals to act as “straw purchasers” for property that he acquired and to conduct financial and other transactions on his behalf. At Belzner’s direction, McCloskey Group employees and others also cashed more than $175,870 in company checks made payable to them, returning the cash to Belzner or using the cash to pay Belzner's creditors. Belzner also arranged for the McCloskey Group to pay many of his personal living expenses, rather than issuing him salary checks. For example, between January 2009 and June 2011, the McCloskey Group paid more than $1.5 million of Belzner’s personal expenses, including health and life insurance premiums, car, personal loan and mortgage payments, and utility and cable bills. In February 2006 and again in January 2009, Belzner submitted forms to the IRS falsely claiming that he did not have sufficient income to make any payments on the assessed back taxes, penalties and interest. The total amount of assessed tax, interest and penalties owed by Belzner as of August 2013 was $2,619,870.
"Throughout a decade of deceit, Patrick Belzner not only defrauded his investors, but also the American tax system, said Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Washington D.C. Field Office. “Motivated by pure greed, Belzner created an elaborate scheme to hide his stolen funds and evade paying his tax liability. In cooperation with our federal partners, IRS-CI is committed to holding thieves, such as Belzner, accountable for their misdeeds."
Brian McCloskey, age 44, of Baltimore; Kevin Sniffen, age 53, of Phoenix, Maryland; Mervyn A. Phelan, Sr., age 74, of Newport Beach, California; and Gregory E. Grantham, age 57, of Oceanside, California, have each pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. In addition, Sean Krondak, of Irvine, California, another IAG employee, has pled guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice arising out of IAG’s destruction of incriminating emails in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. Grantham and Phelan are respectively scheduled to be sentenced on November 14, 2014 and December 5, 2014, while Krondak and McCloskey are both scheduled to be sentenced on December 12, 2014. Sniffen is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19, 2014.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts undertaken 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 for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Jefferson M. Gray and Kathleen O. Gavin, who prosecuted the case.