“Feds to local mortgage originator Shawn Portmann: We want our money”

From the Seattle PI:

Alleging a long-running fraud involving a cash-packed safe and a garbage bag stuffed with money, federal prosecutors have asked that a mortgage broker be forced to hand over $102,000 to the government…
Since June 2009, Lord argued, investigators came to believe “that Portmann and two other principals at (Pierce Commercial Bank) Home Loans had devised a scheme involving … materially false representations to induce financial institutions to fund and/or purchase loans.”

Portmann was the loan officer on 5,253 loans, amounting to nearly $1 billion in lent money and about 46 percent of the home loans issued by the bank, the federal prosecutor told the court. Federal investigators contend about half of those loans were obtained through fraud.

In addition allegations that he falsified application information, Portmann is accused of drawing cashier’s checks from his personal bank accounts to show that would-be loan recipients could pay their debts. The checks were printed, but the funds were quickly returned to Portmann’s accounts, Lord told the court.

Federal investigators claim 85 checks totaling about $899,000 were cut from the account between 2006 and 2009, according to the July 30 court filing. For securing the loans, Portmann was paid at least $813,000 in premiums from 2006 to 2008.

Speaking with IRS and FBI agents earlier this year, Portmann’s personal assistant said she withdrew about $500,000 from Portmann’s savings account and deposited the cash in a safe at his home, according to the civil complaint. Another person allegedly involved in the scheme turned over a large garbage bag filled with $102,000 in cash, telling investigators that Portmann had given him a backpack in late January or early February containing $100,000 in bundled $100 bills.”

An avid Rain City Guide reader tipped me off to this story. Thanks also to the PI for the update. My students in the south end ask me about this case every week.

Everybody LOVES bank fraud!

Is it just me, or do loan orginators routinely encourage bank fraud? First, the background: There are a variety of federal and state laws that make it a VERY serious crime to mislead a lender for purposes of getting a mortgage. At the federal level, 18 USC sec 1014 makes it a crime to “knowingly make any false statement or report . . . for the purpose of influencing in any way the action of” a commercial lender. (Emphasis added). The penalty? A cool million dollar fine and/or 30 years in federal prison. Yup, not a misprint: 30 years in Club Fed. On the state level, RCW 19.44.080 makes it a crime to “knowingly make any misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission during the mortgage lending process knowing that it may be relied on by a mortgage lender.” (Emphasis added). The penalty? Its a class B felony, so 10 years in the joint and/or $20 grand.

As indicated by these laws, as a society we cherish honesty to lenders and believe very strongly that anyone who is dishonest AT ALL in order to secure a loan has committed a very serious crime. The problem, of course, appears to be that nobody in the RE industry agrees. Rather, it appears that the RE industry treats this type of bank fraud (misleading a lender in order to facilitate getting a loan) to be something akin to taking a second serving of dessert: bad form, sure, but if nobody knows…

You may be thinking: “What on earth is Craig talking about? Everyone I know is honest and abides by the law!” Well, think further, and in particular think about a buyer’s inspection contingency response. The NWMLS provides a Form 35R specifically for resolution of the inspection contingency. By its terms, the 35R and any other notices or addenda relating to any modifications or repairs becomes a part of the contract, and of course the lender has the right to receive (and buyer has the obligation to provide to the lender) the entire contract.

How many agents out there have used the Form 35R to request repairs and/or price reductions? And have you gotten any feedback from the loan originator once he or she receives a copy of the signed form? I have. The 35R had the fourth box checked (buyer proposes modifications) and the text below, “Sale price reduced to $440k.” About as simple as can be — but apparently still likely to arouse the suspicions of the underwriters, thus complicating the process. The loan originator’s request? “Toss” the 35R and instead use a Form 34 for a simple price reduction.

The problem? That clearly violates the state law above, and probably the federal law too (at least it will when the buyer signs at escrow a statement indicating that he has provided the lender with all requested information, including a complete copy of the PSA). In other words, even LENDERS encourage violation of the laws designed entirely to protect lenders.

And one wonders how we inflated the housing bubble…..

ING Bank suing under RICO statutes to recover losses by alleged local real estate fraud ring.

Here is the article from the Seattle Times.


In one deal, the bank loaned a borrower $935,000 to buy a Tacoma house for $1.35 million — a house that, according to the real-estate Web site Zillow, is valued higher than 99 percent of homes in its ZIP code. Nationwide Home Lending was paid nearly $30,000 in fees on that loan.

I’ve just dropped an entire commentary I wrote within this post regarding the fantasy idea some people believe that our local area is somewhat insulated from the garbage and degenerates destroying our markets and economy due to greed and fraud.

In essence, my post can be wrapped up in these questions:

  1. Ethically, is this industry too far gone to recover any resemblance of credibility, trust and moral foundation?
  2. How will the real estate brokers weed out the bad actors? We know DFI is going after loan officers and others.

Fortunately, I know and work with quite a few agents and loan officers who genuinely try to do their very best for their customers. Unfortunately, many of them and others who work in real estate are caught in the enormous wake of the problems the fraudsters have created.

Is it possible we are at the bottom?

***Updated/Revised 4:30pm 02/08/2009 PST:  Here is the link to the “Memorandum” (.pdf document) showing how this mortgage broker, in his own words, fraudulently originated millions in loans and how the fallout will plague our economy.  Big thanks goes to blogger “Scotsman” for the getting the document to me.


This is how is it possible………..we may not be at the bottom.

Ardell, I share your hope.   My hope for change is that real estate and lending industry comes to grips with how out of control the core players were that led us to the crisis we are in.   If we all point incriminating fingers to other people in our industry from escrow people to mortgage brokers to agents to Wall Street, pretty soon there’s nobody else to point to.  It circles back to all the players who participated.  Too simple of an explanation of a complex problem?  Maybe.  But, it’s fix has got to start with people in the trenches who are transacting the sales and arranging the financing.

But my hope and Country fight an uphill battle because of people such as Christopher Warren, the mortgage fraudster who wrote the above missive, “how is it possible”. Christopher Warren skipped out of the country on a private plane this past Monday.

See his incredibly clear picture of what is facing our markets by his “memorandum.” (.pdf document).

If one man’s expose of what went on in lending by one person does not make you pale, then I don’t know what will.

An excerpt from Christopher Warren’s  “how it is possible:”

  • That CITI Mortgage didn’t catch correspondents Mortgage Bank of California and Bondcorp Realty Services over-financing over $30,000,000 in bad mortgages with cash-back purchases for straw buyer groups?   How many of these loans are already now owned by our government, tax-payer subsidized, FNMA and Freddie Mac?
  • That GMAC Mortgage LLC., bought over $3,000,000 in mortgages secured in the Orlando Academy Cay Club aka “The Greens

One more story for the Bellevue mortgage fraud files

The Seattle Times is reporting tonight that a federal indictment has been issued for a Bellevue loan officer and his assistant. 

A former loan officer at a Bellevue mortgage company and his assistant have been indicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme that prosecutors say involved using straw buyers to purchase dozens of homes at inflated prices and siphoning off the extra cash for their own use.

Christopher Brooks and Amani Moss allegedly obtained more than $27 million in fraudulent loans for the purchase of at least 54 homes beginning in 2005, according to an indictment unsealed this morning.

The charges allege that they recruited straw buyers, who would allow the men to falsify loan papers for them. At the same time, Brooks and Moss would use a realtor, who is identified in the indictment by the initials “L.A.,” to find home sellers who were willing to overstate the purchase price of their homes. The straw buyers were paid between $7,000 and $10,000 for each transaction, the indictment says.

Brooks, who worked for America Mortgage in Bellevue, would then prepare and submit the false loan papers to several lenders in the area, according to court papers.

The difference between the inflated price and the actual purchase price of the home ranged from $30,000 to $778,000 per home, and the charges allege that money was funneled through a business owned by Moss, Peachtree Development, and into their pockets..

Home sellers, if your home is not selling and someone from our industry approaches you with an idea to take your home off the market and relist at a much, much higher price, please turn the person in to his or her regulator. If you are not sure who the regulator is, contact one of us and we can point you in the right direction.

The DFI Licensee database shows America Mortgage in Bellevue as a licensed mortgage broker. I wonder how many of these loans went into early payment default and how many the broker was asked to buy back from the lender.

In order to commit fraud at this level, the Realtor and mortgage broker would have had some help from an appraiser as well as an escrow closer.

Recent Mortgage Fraud Developments and Future Outlook

Before we use to rely on automated underwriting systems and credit scores we had humans who would carefully underwrite mortgage loan files. During the caveman human underwriter days, loan originators and loan processors knew that underwriters could make or break a file. An underwriter had god-like power to grant or deny the American dream. They had minds like a detective and long-term memory capabilities of an autistic child who can recount the entire screenplay of The Incredible Journey along with all the background noises. Underwriters knew which loan originators had a history of submitting fake gift downpayment letters because they would all sit and chainsmoke together in an un-vented room for 9 hour straight comparing sob stories from loan originators whose files were denied. After work, they would saunter off to network with other underwriters from other banks at a local bar or Mortgage Banker’s Association meeting, same/same. Any fraud that a loan originator tried to pull off was easily sniffed out, with the LO retreating for a while and eventually leaving the company due to the ice cold group shun effect. There were no stated income loans. Two years of tax returns, a P&L and a balance sheet were brought in to underwriting and a few days later, an underwriter would hand the LO a sheet of paper telling the LO what number to use as income for qualifying purposes. If the newly self-employed could not qualify, that person found a co-signer, usually a parent.

Yes, I was an underwriter back in the mid 1980s, and I was the youngest underwriter on staff. I was recruited from processing because I use to submit my files already underwritten along with the conditions for loan approval. What was apparent to me even as a 23 year old was that if my boss had to report to the same person that was in charge of sales and production, every file would have been approved. But she reported to someone else. It was that person’s job to make sure we were making good credit decisions. The goals of production and risk are in harmony, if you take a long-term look at the possible consequences of making credit decisions that are too far out of balance either way. Each part of a mortgage company needs the other part to maximize good consequences for all.

[photopress:stated_income_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]Recent Mortgage Fraud Developments

The outlook for mortgage fraud across the United States is grim. I started this series at the end of October with background research conducted by the FBI that concluded that the most damaging mortgage fraud consisted of many people in the industry working together; fraud for profit.

As of today, I am no longer convinced that fraud for profit is the most damaging kind of mortgage fraud.

Today I believe if we put all the out-of-work underwriters back to work and opened up all the loan files in the defaulting tranches of subprime, Alt-A, and prime loans, we would find the same kind of problems that Fitch, the ratings agency, found when they re-undewrote a small sample of 45 early default loans from the 2006 vintage. Now granted, this is a small sample. However, after working within corporations most of my adult life, I also know that the public really never hears how bad things are. The name of the report is “The Impact of Poor Underwriting Practices and Fraud in Subprime Residential Mortgage Backed Securities