CHICAGO ― A disbarred Illinois lawyer has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for her role in a mortgage fraud scheme that bilked lenders and vulnerable homeowners out of more than $725,000.
AVALON BETTS-GASTON contrived fraudulent real estate transactions to defraud homeowners and financial institutions. She and a co-defendant, Dimona Ross, arranged for the submission of materially false information on mortgage loan documents in four Cook County real estate transactions worth more than $725,000.
A federal jury last year convicted Betts-Gaston, 47, of Naperville, on two counts of wire fraud. In addition to the 57-month prison term, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle yesterday ordered Betts-Gaston to pay restitution in the amount of $239,550.48.
“This case demonstrates a sophisticated scheme to take advantage of the trust that mortgage lenders placed in the loan applications they received, and the trust that the homeowners placed in her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Chahn Lee argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “The homeowners believed that she was there to help them, and instead she put their homes and equity at risk.”
Betts-Gaston graduated from law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 2000. Ross was a licensed real estate loan officer. Together they founded IJCN Investments, which was based in Chicago Ridge and purportedly helped distressed homeowners refinance their homes to avoid foreclosure.
IJCN was involved in various Cook County real estate transactions, with Betts-Gaston handling the legal aspects and Ross obtaining the mortgages. Evidence at trial revealed that instead of refinancing the homes, the defendants arranged for the properties to be sold to a straw buyer. In doing so, the pair submitted false applications for mortgage loans, eradicated the homeowners’ legal rights in their properties, and obtained all of the homeowners’ equity. Betts-Gaston and Ross received fees for the deals, and the straw buyers were paid thousands of dollars.
IJCN was dissolved in 2008, and Betts-Gaston was disbarred in 2012.
Ross pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Norgle on May 11, 2016, at 10:00 a.m.
The sentencing was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The government is represented by Mr. Lee and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Storino.