Former Aurora Resident Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for $4.8 Million International Timeshare Fraud
CHICAGO — An Aurora native who operated several fraudulent Mexican real estate businesses was sentenced today to 20 years in prison for his role in a $4.8 million swindle of timeshare owners.
GILBERT BRETT FREEMAN, 44, led a scheme to defraud more than 1,400 owners by falsely promising that he would sell their Mexican timeshares to corporate buyers. Freeman and others collected payments from the owners for fictitious fees and taxes that he claimed were required to complete Mexican real estate deals, and that he promised would be refunded upon closing. In reality, Freeman had no intention of selling the timeshares or reimbursing the owners.
Freeman instead used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle that included a penthouse apartment in an oceanfront resort, Rolex watches, numerous vacations, and the rental of a Lamborghini in Las Vegas for $1,399 per day. Some of his victims resided in the Chicago area.
Freeman, a native of Aurora who most recently resided in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, pleaded guilty in 2014 to five counts of wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo imposed the 240-month sentence in federal court in Chicago.
“The defendant’s actions had a devastating impact on countless victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Stetler argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “Rather than using his victims’ money to fund timeshare sales, the defendant chose to use that money to bankroll an extravagant lifestyle.”
Authorities arrested Freeman in July 2012 in Las Vegas. According to his plea declaration, Freeman was involved with various Mexican-based companies, including International Resorts Resale, Resort Closing Services, Timeshare Consolidators, Timeshare Liquidators, and Transfer My Timeshare. At Freeman’s direction, “lead generators” contacted the timeshare owners and explained that the companies could coordinate the sale of their properties. When an owner expressed interest, company employees known as “liners” followed up to arrange the first payment, which the liners claimed would be refundable even though it wasn’t.
“Closers” from the companies were then brought in to convince the owners to make additional payments to cover the bogus fees and taxes that were purportedly needed to complete the deal, according to the charges. Closers and liners received commissions for each payment collected from the timeshare owners.
The final step involved purported “escrow employees,” who claimed to represent independent businesses and who assured the owners that their money would be securely held until reimbursement. In reality, there were no such escrow agreements, and the so-called escrow representatives were actually working for one of Freeman’s companies, according to the charges.
In all, eleven defendants have been charged in the scheme, which began in 2008 and continued in various forms until January 2015. Four defendants, including Freeman, have pleaded guilty, while the others have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The sentencing of Freeman was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and C. Steven Baker, Director of the Midwest Region of the Federal Trade Commission. The government is being represented by Mr. Stetler.