Thursday, May 28, 2015

Judge Belts Loan Modification Scammer Who Used Faith-Based Approach To Target Religious Victims w/ 30-99 Years In Slammer; Scheme Fleeced About 100 Homeowners Out Of $300K+

In Pontiac, Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports:
  • A Detroit man was sentenced to at least three decades in prison for conning about 100 people out of more than $300,000 using a faith-based scam that promised help keep their homes out of foreclosure, including a woman whose son was dying of a brain tumor.

    Anthony Carta, 53, pleaded guilty [] in Oakland County Circuit Court to seven felonies stemming from his fake mortgage assistance scheme.

    Freedom by Faith Ministries marketed its services through unsuspecting Christian channels, networks and ministries.

    According to court documents, victims thought Carta and Southfield-based FBF would help the distressed homeowners keep, sell or resolve issues related to paying off their mortgages in lieu of foreclosure, but FBF and Carta kept the money and didn't do anything for the clients.

    Victims lost between $1,000 and $24,000 in the scam, which lasted from November 2009 to July 2013.

    FBF also must pay $674,001 in restitution and Carta himself has to pay $400,000 in restitution. Carta was sentenced to 30-99 years in the scheme.

    Using insider access to get to the heart of the religious community -- appearances on Christian TV shows, online videos and word-of-mouth -- Carta found his victims, among them Shelly Pesta, who risked losing her Commerce Township home after her young son was diagnosed with cancer and ran up huge medical bills.

    Close friends who were using FBF to help save another person's house put the 45-year-old biotech worker in touch with Carta, to whom she gave close to $110,000. He told her FBF would work with her bank, Wells Fargo, to salvage the home for a fraction of the price. The plan was that after she'd front the money, the home would be put in his ministry's name and then, he'd turn the title over to her.

    Pesta's first inkling that something was wrong came when she noticed her name was misspelled on some paperwork. When she began to confront him, he'd try to cover himself or dodge her.

    "I was begging him for some of the money back. My son diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and I had to pay for medicine," Pesta said. "I was in extremely vulnerable place, very much leaning on my faith. My faith has been strong since I was a child. Absolutely, when he came forth and projected... 'I am a faith-based person and I can do right by you and through God, we help you,' I listened. I let him pray over my child."

    Pesta was able to save her home, but Carla Baskin, 47, and her father, Clarence Presley, 63, lost their houses in Ypsilanti and Detroit, respectively. She had forked over $7,600 and he, $11,000.

    "Of course, I blame him. There's a time factor. If I think this man is working on my behalf, I think, 'Cool,' but once it went beyond that time, you can't redeem the house," said Baskin, adding that she feels "really stupid and naive."

    Baskin, a nurse, turned to Carda, whom a friend had recommended, to help her with a short sale. When she repeatedly called her mortgage company only to be told that no one had contacted them, she got suspicious and wanted her money back, causing Carda to become belligerent.

    "I went to the office in Southfield and he gave me the run around. He told me, 'I contacted your mortgage company,' and he showed me a piece of paper that didn't even look legitimate," Baskin said. "It shook my trust in people and my trust in general, trusting their word. It didn't affect my faith in God. There are some evil people out there and you have to be careful of them."

    ***

    Oakland County Circuit Court, Judge Michael Warren convicted Anthony Carta and FBF on March 9 on one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, one count of false pretenses $20,000 or more but less than $50,000 and five counts of false pretenses $1,000 or more, but less than $20,000.
Source: Faith-based foreclosure scammer gets 30-99 years (Con artist who preyed on distressed homeowners must also pay restitution in fake mortgage assistance scheme).

For a related Michigan Attorney General press release, see Detroit Man Pleads Guilty to Swindling Thousands in Fake Mortgage Assistance Scheme.

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