Atlanta real estate agent, Eric Hill, has been sentenced to prison for his participation in a mortgage fraud scheme that netted more than $21 million in fraudulent mortgage loans. Many of the fraudulent loans were financed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) with over $850,000 in claims being paid for mortgages that defaulted. Hill also engaged in a scheme to defraud his employer, a national real estate developer, out of more than $480,000 in real estate commissions.
Eric Hill, 52, of Tyrone, and Robert Kelske, 54, of Smyrna were real estate agents who represented the nationwide homebuilding company, and assisted more than 100 people purchase homes that were not qualified to obtain a mortgage, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The fraudulent applications would induce mortgage lenders to fund these loans.
“Eric Hill engaged in premeditated criminal acts with the sole purpose of enriching himself, without regard for millions of American homebuyers who rely on federal housing programs to insure their mortgages. His fraudulent actions strike not only at the fiscal integrity of the FHA, but also our neighbors and communities who are victims of these schemes,” said special agent in charge Wyatt Achord with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General.
The operations behind this fraud scheme were revealed in court: Hill and Kelske then coordinated with multiple document fabricators, including defendants Fawziyyah Connor and Stephanie Hogan, who altered the homebuyers’ bank statements to inflate their assets and to create bank entries reflecting false direct deposits from an employer selected by the real estate agent. Document fabricators also generated fake earning statements that matched direct deposit entries to make it seem like the homebuyer was employed and earning income, although from a fake employer.
Other participants in the scheme acted as employer verifiers, responding to phone calls and emails from lenders to falsely verify the homebuyers’ employment. Defendants Jerod Little, Renee Little, Maurice Lawson, Todd Taylor, Paige McDaniel and Donald Fontenot acted as employment verifiers. Hill and Kelske coordinated the creation and submission of the false information so that the lies to the lenders were consistent.
Hill and Kelske also conspired with other real estate agents, including Anthony Richard and Cephus Chapman, who falsely claimed to represent homebuyers as their selling agent in order to receive commissions from the home sales. In reality, these real estate agents never even met the homebuyers they claimed to represent. To avoid detection, these real estate agents would notify closing attorneys that they would not be available for the home closing and send wire instructions for their commissions.
After these agents would get their unearned commissions, they would kick back the majority of the commissions to Hill or Kelske for allowing them in on the deal, keeping a small share for their role in the scheme.
Hill was sentenced to two years, six months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Hill was convicted on these charges on September 21, 2020, after he pleaded guilty. So far, up to 11 people have plead guilty in Federal Court to the multi-year mortgage fraud scheme.
In addition to Hill, Defendants Donald Fontenot, Maurice Lawson, Stephanie Hogan, Jerod Little, Renee Little, Paige McDaniel, Fawziyyah Connor, and Anthony Richard have all been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracies.
Todd Taylor pled guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 3, 2022. Robert Kelske also pled guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced April 14, 2022. Cephus Chapman was convicted at trial and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 10, 2022.
“While it is easy to dismiss financial fraud cases as victimless crimes because of their lack of violence, there is, however, very real victimization to our economy and our taxpayers,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta. “This sentencing sends the message that the FBI will persistently work to protect American citizens and the real estate market from predators who drag down our economy by deception for their own personal gain.”
This case was investigated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.