Ex-lawyer is given 15 months for fraud

His role in flipping scheme cost lenders $500,000

August 27, 2002|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

A disbarred Towson attorney was sentenced yesterday to 15 months in federal prison for his role in a property flipping and mortgage fraud scheme that authorities discovered only after he went to the FBI with similar allegations against a former associate.

Angus E. Finney, the former attorney, had pleaded guilty in January 2001 to one count of mail fraud in a 17-count indictment, admitting that his activities cost lenders as much as $500,000. In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis agreed to recommend that Finney serve it in a halfway house. He also ordered him to serve three years of supervised release after his prison term.

The sentencing came four days after an East Baltimore man, Oscar Alm, pleaded guilty to his role in a separate flipping scheme, admitting that he cost lenders as much as $800,000. Alm, 49, is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 17. Leon Wilkowsky, a sometime partner of Alm's, is scheduled for sentencing Thursday. He pleaded guilty in November, admitting that he cost lenders up to $2.5 million.

In yet another case, a 30-year-old native of Zimbabwe, Makushamari Gozo, was arrested Friday on a flipping charge. An affidavit filed by FBI agent James J. Costigan listed nearly two dozen properties that Gozo sold. The affidavit said Gozo entered the United States in 1992 on a student visa that expired Dec. 31, 1999, and that he has used several names and Social Security numbers.

"Gozo has engaged in a pattern of fraud to obtain loans for individuals who do not intend to repay the mortgages," Costigan wrote.

At a hearing yesterday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey ordered Gozo held for 10 days after the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it would file a detainer on him, a prelude to possible deportation.

Illegal property flipping involves the purchase of low-cost properties and their quick resale at inflated values, using falsified documents to obtain mortgage loans. Some flippers seek prospective homeowners as buyers while others including Alm, Wilkowsky and Finney look for aspiring landlords who are willing to buy more than one house.

In the last two years, 50 people - 36 in Baltimore and 14 in Greenbelt - have been convicted or agreed to plead guilty in federal flipping and mortgage fraud cases, according to Joseph L. Evans, an assistant U.S. attorney who supervises the flipping probes.

Finney's sentencing yesterday brought to an end a complex five-year probe that has seen five defendants receive prison terms ranging from 15 to 33 months. Two others, both real estate appraisers, were acquitted last year by a judge midway through their trial.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Finney, 44, could have received 24 to 30 months. Garbis agreed to give Finney the 15-month sentence because he has cooperated with prosecutors in other investigations since his guilty plea.

Finney's lawyer, assistant federal public defender Paula Xinis, unsuccessfully argued for an even greater reduction. She said Finney has been "incredibly helpful" to prosecutors in a half-dozen flipping investigations, providing information on more than 20 individuals.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding told Garbis that the investigation began when Finney and a business partner, Thomas H. "Tucker" Mayer, went to the FBI in 1997 to report that a former partner, Carl Schulz, was involved in flipping. Finney and Mayer assisted undercover agents in the investigation of Schulz, said Harding.

"I learned after taking over this case that they were involved in a flipping scheme of their own," said Harding.

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