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FEB 21, 2014 11:34am ET

Mortgage-Assistance Scam Lands Florida Men Seven Years in Prison

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Two Florida men have been sentenced to serve seven years in federal prison for swindling more than $4 million from borrowers who were behind on their mortgages.

Christopher Godfrey and Dennis Fischer charged struggling homeowners $400 to $2,000 for mortgage-assistance applications that were available free of charge through the federal government, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said Thursday. The inspector general is involved in the case because the federally funded Home Affordable Modification Program is part of TARP.

Between January 2009 and May 2011, Godfrey and Fischer ran an operation called Home Owners Protection Economics that promised to help borrowers obtain federally funded home loan modifications, according to the inspector general. In exchange for hefty fees, the men and their employees would send homeowners across the country a do-it-yourself application for the Home Affordable Modification Program.

"The defendants routinely claimed that the homeowners had already been approved for a loan modification, provided phony 'approval codes,' quoted new (and wholly fictitious) mortgage terms and due dates, touted their 98% past success rate, and claimed that they were 'underwriters' or were otherwise affiliated with the homeowners’ mortgage companies," the inspector general's office said in a press release. "HOPE also claimed that it would offer homeowners refunds in the unlikely event that they did not receive a loan modification."

Most homeowners who applied for federal mortgage assistance through HOPE were denied loan modifications, according to the release. Meanwhile, Godfrey and Fischer spent proceeds from the scam on vacations to Dubai and the South of France, luxury shopping sprees and mortgage payments on their own Florida beachside homes, according to the release.

"These men stole millions of dollars from struggling Americans who had achieved the dream of homeownership and sought help to refinance their mortgages and save their homes from foreclosure," Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said in the release. "Today’s sentences should serve as a warning to anyone who exploits distressed homeowners and prevents them from getting the real help they need."

Godfrey and Fischer were convicted of one count of conspiracy, eight counts of wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud and one count of misusing a government seal after a two-week trial in November. They were sentenced in a Massachusetts district court.

The two remaining defendants in the case, Vernell Burris Jr. and Brian Kelly, have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Feb. 25.

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