His voice was soft, but the judge's words were scathing as he denounced five men who took part in a huge mortgage fraud scheme of being responsible for the fierce recession currently ravaging America and the rest of the world.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart sentenced the five to prison terms of varying lengths during a series of back-to-back hearings Thursday.
"It is not too much of a stretch to say this is part of a larger corruption in our society that has led to the economic troubles not only in this country but in the whole world," Stewart said. "This conduct is a curse on our society."
The men were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2007 on charges they conspired to create a multimillion dollar mortgage fraud scheme involving a Utah County development that was originally thought to total $18 million in fraudulent loans. That figure was not referred to in court Thursday, but prosecutors said the sum the five must pay restitution for has been calculated at $5.5 million.
Sentenced were Bradley Grant Kitchen of Provo, David R. Bolick of Sandy, Steve Wells Cloward of Orem, Ron K. Clarke of Provo, and Jeffery David Garrett of Provo.
Stewart said "stealing is stealing, plain and simple," and there is essentially no difference between ripping off a mortgage company or going into a bank and pointing a gun at a teller.
"These were men of status and stature," Stewart said. "Why they undertook the enterprise they did is a mystery to this court."
The sentences to the various pleas and plea bargains were:
Garrett, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud, was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Clarke: wire fraud, 41 months.
Bolick: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 41 months.
Cloward: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 33 months.
Kitchen, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 51 months.
All were given 36 months of supervised release once they get out of prison. Garrett was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution, while the others are jointly responsible for the remaining $5.4 million.
Kitchen, who was considered the ringleader, came forward first to cooperate with law enforcement officials and got a reduction under the federal sentencing guidelines, but that did not offset the time imposed for his leadership role.
The indictment states Kitchen and Bolick got together to buy properties through Bolick's firm, Home Owners Group, with backing from another company owned by Bolick, Paragon Investment Group.
The two men were accused of using false statements on loan applications and false appraisals to boost the market value of the properties they sought to buy. Properties in the posh Provo River Bottoms area were part of the scheme.
The pair then sought out "straw buyers," who lent their credit for loans, and the loan applications were filled with such things as false income statements, claims of assets that did not exist, lies about plans to occupy homes once purchased and fake down payments that were never made, according to the indictment.
Kitchen and Clark also were accused by federal prosecutors of putting phony sale numbers into the Multiple Listing Service to artificially boost the prices in an area to use as comparables in property appraisals, provided by Cloward. Garrett functioned as a title/escrow agent.
The loans were handled through America's Wholesale Lender, the mortgage section of Countrywide Home Mortgage, and American Broker's Conduit, the wholesale mortgage section of American Home Mortgage.
The end result was that each man lined his own pockets, with some money going into River Bottoms houses to make it look as if the loans were performing, prosecutors said.
Each man apologized in court for what he had done, with varying degrees of emotion.
David Maddox, the attorney for Garrett, argued his client had been "overcharged," that others who acted as a "straw man" in other situations did not get charged, and his client should not be subjected to "selective enforcement."
Garrett told the judge he made one bad choice and wished he had not done so because of the negative effect it has had on so many people, especially his wife and family.
The judge responded to Maddox's arguments by saying the court often hears pleas for leniency from young Mexican men who act as couriers, or "mules," smuggling drugs into the U.S. They may have less involvement than a drug cartel overlord, but without the mules, drug trafficking could not occur.
Further, Stewart said he considered the role of a straw buyer to be "reprehensible."
Ron Clarke choked back tears as he apologized, said he would accept any sentence from the judge and "serve it honorably," and then pledged to "do much good in the world" once out of prison. "I do humbly ask for your forgiveness and my family for forgiveness."
Cloward and Bolick both said they were sorry for their part in the criminal activity and regretted what this has done to their families and to society.
Kitchen went so far as to admit he added to the financial mess Americans struggle with today. "It's been horrible to watch the meltdown of this economy," he said. "The gravity of that weighs heavily on me."
Besides the direct victims, Kitchen acknowledged his actions have jacked some property taxes much higher, prevented people from getting necessary financing and caused a myriad of hardships.
"I am ashamed and sorry and embarrassed for what I have done," Kitchen said.
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