A former vice president of production at Argent Mortgage Co. LLC, a wholesale lender that Citigroup Inc. bought in September, could serve up to 105 years in prison after being convicted of running a Florida mortgage fraud, according to the state's attorney general, Bill McCollum.
A Polk County jury convicted Orson Benn of racketeering, mortgage fraud, and grand theft, Mr. McCollum's office said last week. Five other defendants in the case pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, which took place during more than two years in four Florida counties. One defendant, Scott Almeida, is to serve 10 years; the rest have yet to be sentenced.
Mr. Almeida, Frank Giffone, Adrienne White, and Bradford Peck are former employees of the loan brokerages Advanced Mortgage Solutions and Consumer Lending Resources. They also ran two home improvement companies. Samuel Green was a regional production manager at Argent who worked with Mr. Benn in the Irvine, Calif., lender's White Plains, N.Y., office.
Homeowners began complaining about incomplete or shoddy construction work by companies affiliated with Mr. Almeida in 2004. After three years of investigation, a task force found that Mr. Almeida and his partners had obtained loans for the homeowners to finance these projects by submitting fraudulent applications to Argent.
Mr. Almeida submitted nearly 130 applications for an aggregate of $13 million, the attorney general's office said. Mr. Benn and Mr. Green funded these loans and distributed proceeds to the other defendants after receiving bribes from Mr. Almeida and others, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Argent was renamed Citi Residential Lending. This year Citigroup said it would close the unit's offices by March 31, 2009, and that the functions they handled would be absorbed by its CitiMortgage unit.