As extortion schemes go, the plot three senior Ditech.com employees are said to have hatched is not particularly shrewd.
The three - Jay David Marx, Gregory Kenneth DeLong, and Vincent John Pozzuoli - were indicted May 2 on charges they tried to extort money from Pittsburgh-based ATM Corp. of America, which provided title insurance, notary closings, and other services to Ditech, a Costa Mesa, Calif., subprime mortgage lender owned by General Motors' GMAC Mortgage Corp.
Mr. Pozzuoli and Mr. DeLong were both arrested at work the day the indictments were reached. Mr. Marx was arrested the next day while vacationing in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh. They are to appear May 31 in a U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh for an initial appearance and arraignment.
The indictment says the executives demanded money from an ATM Corp. salesmen, who calmly went to his boss, who notified his boss, who notified the authorities. It also says one of the men used traceable e-mail in arranging to funnel money to a relative, and by that time the FBI was monitoring the situation.
"In terms of a clever plan, this isn't very good," said David L. Lewis, an extortion expert and a partner with the Lewis & Foire law firm in New York.
Francis Azur, ATM's chief executive, concurs with indictment's assertion that the plot started unraveling almost at its inception, when two of the defendants pulled the ATM Corp. salesman into an office at Ditech's headquarters. They threatened to stop giving ATM business if the salesman did not give them kickbacks, the indictment says.
"They just closed the door and said they wanted to share in the revenues they were giving us," Mr. Azur said. "Ditech accounts for 20% of our annual $40 million in billing, and they just thought it would be hard for us to say no."
After his salesman told him what had happened, Mr. Azur called his attorneys. They contacted officials at GMAC, which went to the FBI.
According to the indictment, the defendants told ATM officials that payments would go to John S. Anderson, Mr. Marx's father-in-law. Mr. Anderson, who lives in California, was to be paid $20,000 a month. After state and federal income taxes and other payroll deductions, the first check netted the defendants $11,451.20. But before they (or Mr. Anderson) could collect more "paychecks," the FBI moved in.
J. Paul Reddam, who founded Ditech, resigned as its CEO May 2. Neither he nor the company has been accused of wrongdoing.
Extortion cases can become protracted and convoluted legal battles. Mr. Lewis said such cases often end up in court because the perpetrator can easily claim to have been the victim. "The question is, Which way does the street really run?" he said. "Sometimes these deals go both ways, and the winner is the one who gets to the U.S. Attorney's office first."
The three defendants remain free on bail in Southern California, where they are on indefinite leave with pay, a GMAC spokesman said.
James D. Riddet, attorney for Mr. Pozzuoli, said his client will plead not-guilty at the May 31 hearing. "We haven't seen any of the evidence, but we will make a strong response, and I would expect Mr. Pozzuoli to be exonerated," he said. He declined to comment further. Mr. Marx and Mr. DeLong did not return phone calls. The three are charged with criminal conspiracy and violating the Hobbs and Real Estate Settlement Procedures acts.
"We are hopeful that the investigation will be concluded with minimal impact," the GMAC spokesman said.