Michael Wilkerson, 47, a former pastor of New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship, with centers in Spring City and Phoenixville, Pa., was convicted Tuesday, Feb.26, 2013 of defrauding the former Chase Manhattan Bank of more than $6 million in home loans.
Denise Haines, 43, a former mortgage broker for American Group Mortgage Corp. in Newtown, Delaware County, was convicted as a co-conspirator of bank and loan fraud in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, as announced in an FBI press release, also dated Feb. 26, 2013.
Two others had pled guilty for their involvement in the fraud scheme. Wilkerson's wife, Joyce, and Lee Garell, a real estate broker, both from Pottstown. The wife admitted to writing out the checks to the “straw buyers” and also pretended to be a co-purchaser of each of the homes at the time of settlement.
Michael Wilkerson, pastor of New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship, with locations in Phoenixville and Spring City, recruited several of his congregants and the congregants’ families and friends to participate in a number of real estate transactions. If they had good credit and acted as “straw purchasers”—meaning they would sign loan documents as the purchaser of a house and attend the property settlement—Michael Wilkerson would pay them $15,000. Wilkerson paid the recruits another $5,000 if they referred other straw purchasers to him. Wilkerson recruited at least six individuals who agreed to be straw purchasers of homes. Denise Haines, a mortgage broker with American Group Mortgage Corporation, submitted fraudulent loan applications in the transactions to Chase Manhattan Bank. These fraudulent loan applications falsely represented the appraised value of the homes, the identification of the “straws,” the source of funds, the borrower’s income and assets, and their intent to take possession of the homes as their primary residence. Based on the representations made in the loan documents, Haines knew she could get Chase Manhattan Bank to approve the loans with little verification of the information on the loan applications. (FBI press release)
The defendants fraudulently obtained more than $6 million in loans from December 2006 to August 2008 for five homes in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and Glenmoore, Chester County. Garell prepared the sales paperwork for the homes and, along with Michael Wilkerson, dictated the fraudulent terms in the settlement papers.
Haines submitted fraudulent loan applications to Chase Manhattan Bank and falsely represented the appraised value of the homes, the identification of the straw buyers, their income and assets, and their intent to take possession of the homes as their primary residences.
After settlement on the homes, Michael Wilkerson took possession of all of the homes, rented at least two of them and lived in another. He paid the mortgages with the proceeds from the fraudulent mortgage transactions and with rental income for approximately six months and then told the “straw” purchasers that they had to pay the mortgages. This last act led to the loans falling into default and then foreclosure, resulting in a loss of approximately $3 million. (Ibid)
Michael Wilkerson and Haines were convicted of five counts of loan application fraud and one count of bank fraud. Joyce Wilkerson pleaded guilty to all six charges and Garell pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled on June 3, 2013, for Michael Wilkerson and June 17, 2013, for Denise Haines. Each faces a maximum possible sentence of 180 years in prison, five years’ supervised release, a fine of up to $6 million, and a $600 special assessment. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for Garrell and Joyce Wilkerson on April 30, 2013, and May 6, 2013, respectively.
All are free on bail except Michael Wilkerson, who is in federal custody.
In a previous Berks case, Michael Wilkerson pleaded guilty in 2001 to defrauding contractors building his $1.7 million mansion in Union Township. Wilkerson forged the name of a bank loan officer and used the document to obtain materials on credit.
Wilkerson also was convicted in Montgomery County Court in August 2011 of writing a bad check for $111,000 to Mercedes-Benz of Fort Washington.