Jurors in the first major property flipping case will begin deliberations this morning, weighing contrary arguments about the guilt of G. Samson Ugorji, the appraiser accused in a fraudulent mortgage scheme.
In closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors said that Ugorji was a willing and knowledgeable participant in the effort to defraud lenders. Defense lawyers contended that "there is no evidence" Ugorji knew of the fraud scheme when he did 42 appraisals for Robert L. Beeman of Wilmington, Del.
Beeman bought and quickly resold more than 100 Baltimore houses at substantially inflated prices in the last four years.
Ugorji is charged with 14 counts of mail and wire fraud. Each count involves one of the appraisals he did for Beeman.
Beeman and four others have pleaded guilty to one count each. Beeman acknowledged that he cost lenders up to $1.5 million.
Ugorji's lawyers argue that their client was duped along with the lenders and homebuyers and that he did "good faith" appraisals. They did not call any witnesses.
Prosecutors said Ugorji falsified appraisals to show that houses Beeman had bought in most cases for $10,000 to $20,000 were worth $80,000.
They claim the appraisals were used to persuade lenders to give Beeman's buyers mortgages for more than the houses were worth.
"The scheme can't work unless there's a willing, corrupt appraiser," prosecutor Carmina S. Hughes said in her closing arguments yesterday.
Barry Pollack, a defense lawyer countered that the government had not proved Ugorji "intended to defraud anybody."
Pollack tried to explain Ugorji's admittedly false claims in his appraisals that the property had been "totally renovated."
He argued that Ugorji accurately described the condition of the property elsewhere in the appraisal and that the "totally renovated" paragraph resulted from a busy man's mistaken failure to remove "stock language" from the appraisal.
Prosecutor Joseph L. Evans scoffed at that. "The magnitude of the mistake shows intention" to defraud, he argued. "It's not a mistake 42 times to misstate the condition of the property. How can that ever be a mistake?"