A former Montgomery County pastor is facing up to 180 years in prison, after he was convicted of mortgage fraud earlier Tuesday in federal court.
Michael Wilkerson, 47, of Pottstown, along with Denise Haines, 43, of Birdboro, were convicted of devising a scheme to defraud the former Chase Manhattan Bank by fraudulently obtaining $6 million in home loans for properties in Schwenksville and Glenmoore.
Wilkerson, whose church – New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship – has locations in Phoenixville and Spring City, recruited several of his congregants and their families to act as "straw purchasers" for a number of real estate transactions. So long as the congregants signed the loan documents and attended the property settlement, Wilkerson would pay them $15,000 – plus an additional $5,000 is they could refer another person to participate in the scheme.
Haines, who was employed as a mortgage broker with American Group Mortgage Corporation, would then knowingly submit fraudulent loan applications in the mortgage transactions with Chase Manhattan Bank, falsifying the appraised value of the properties, as well as the "straw purchaser's" assets and income. In doing so, Haines knew Chase Manhattan would approve the loans with minimal verification.
Once the loans were funded at the time of settlement, those involved in the scheme would manipulate the documents to appear as though the "straws" brought a large down-payment to closing. On the contrary, the money involved at settlement had actually come from Chase Manhattan, which the convicted then shared.
Wilkerson's wife, Joyce, pleaded guilty to assisting in the scheme by writing out checks to the "straws" and posing as a co-purchaser at the time of settlement. Additionally, Lee Garell, a real estate broker who also pleaded guilty, prepared the sales paperwork and, along with Wilkerson, dictated the fraudulent terms in the settlement sheets.
After the settlement on the homes had wrapped up, Wilkerson took possession of all of the homes. The release states that he rented at least two of them while living in another. Mortgages were all paid with money from the scheme, as well as the rental income, until Wilkerson told the "straws" that they needed to pay their own mortgages. At that point, the loans fell into default, and then forclosure, resulting in a loss of roughly $3 million.
Wilkerson is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg on June 3, and Haines is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17.
Both face a maximum of 180 years in prison, five years of supervised release and fines up to $6 million.