Two indicted in Springs area mortgage fraud scheme

October 20, 2010

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver on Wednesday announced indictments against two real-estate investors accused of bilking Colorado Springs homeowners and their banks in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Charged were Ramona Fricosu, 49, of Peyton, and Scott Whatcott, 36, who is serving a two-year prison sentence after a February conviction in El Paso County for impersonating a lawyer.

The indictments were returned Oct. 1. Both suspects face more than 20 counts of bank fraud and multiple counts of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements to a financial institution.

Whatcott also faces two counts of aggravated identity theft.

In dealings that ran from July 2007 through September, the pair allegedly worked in tandem to steal titles from homeowners facing foreclosure, said Jeffrey Dorschner, a U.S. Attorneys Office spokesman. According to the indictment, Whatcott obtained the properties with the promise that he would make their mortgage payments.

After Whatcott and Fricosu made payments for a short period, the pair would sell the houses, collect the proceeds and skip out on the mortgage payments, federal authorities allege.

Bank fraud and making false statements to a financial institution each carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million. Wire fraud has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Similar scams — often referred to as equity stripping — began to proliferate in Colorado in 2005 with the collapse of the housing market, said Ryan McMaken, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Housing.

The fraud usually hinges on a false promise that a struggling homeowner will be allowed to remain at home until financial problems are sorted out, McMaken said.

Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, warned homeowners to be wary of loan modification deals that involve handing over a title or cutting off contact with their mortgage holder. He urged people to call the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline — at 877-601-HOPE — for other tips on sorting through financial trouble.

“We always encourage homeowners to be wary when someone offers a 100 percent guarantee — there are no guarantees,” Saccone said.

Federal authorities also announced indictments in two similar, but unrelated mortgage fraud cases in the Denver metro area and Castle Rock.

Call the writer at 636-0366.

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