State pulls license of loan broker

Posted April 29, 2009, at 7:17 p.m.

GARDINER, Maine — State regulators have revoked the license of an Ellsworth loan broker accused of a Ponzi-type investment and loan deal that bilked investors and employees out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In an administrative order released Monday, William N. Lund, superintendent of the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, determined that Eric S. Murphy Jr., who did business under the name Murphy Home Loans in Ellsworth, committed 11 separate violations of the state’s Consumer Credit Code. He also ordered Murphy to pay $21,500 in fines and fees.

Lund’s decision came after a hearing held on March 30 at which 10 witnesses, including nine of Murphy’s alleged victims, testified. Murphy, who was notified of the hearing, did not attend and, according to hearing documents, did not refute the charges.

According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, Murphy initially had been represented by attorneys in the matter, first one from Bangor and later one from Portland. That representation had ended before the March 30 hearing and Murphy was not represented by counsel during the hearing.

Murphy could not be reached for comment by Wednesday evening.

The hearing record noted that Murphy had submitted a motion arguing that he had surrendered his license voluntarily and so the subject matter of the hearing was moot. Lund rejected that motion, noting the purported voluntary surrender would not allow the opportunity for findings of fact, conclusion of law and sanctions pro-vided by the hearing.

Witnesses at that hearing testified Murphy still owed them money. Some reported their credit and reputations had been ruined, and others said they have lost their homes and businesses due to their involvement with Murphy’s projects.

One victim said the experience has left her “devastated, depressed and humiliated,” according to the hearing record.

Most of the deals centered on home construction projects. According to the evidence presented, Murphy acted as a loan broker and investment facilitator for these projects. Consumers relied on him to obtain financing for homes, while investors gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for promises of steady, safe returns.

Lund found that Murphy had failed to perform both as a broker and investment facilitator as he had promised and as required by law.

One witness testified that Murphy failed to pay for a modular home he had ordered for her and her husband, while another said he failed to pay expenses incurred in building a house and failed to account for money disbursed at a refinancing closing.

In addition, developers and investors testified that hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments were misapplied, misspent or lost; that building materials were not paid for; and that wages due from Murphy to former employees remain unpaid.

Evidence presented during the hearing showed that Murphy moved funds, without investors’ authorization, from one project to another in an illegal scheme.

“It is evident that [Eric Murphy Jr.] shuffled funds from one investment project to another, making payments to earlier or more persistent investors using funds from subsequent or less confrontational investors,” said Lund in the order. “This activity forms the basis of what is termed a Ponzi scheme, and it is clear that [Murphy’s] business practices … have the elements of just such a fraudulent pyramid business model.”

The hearing record also showed Murphy had transferred funds from a trust account in violation of the Consumer Credit Code. Rather than being used as an escrow account separate from any operating accounts of the business, Lund found that Murphy had used the account to pay expenses related to at least two projects and to write checks to himself.

Although the review of Murphy’s checks from that account is incomplete, investigators determined that Murphy spent more than $461,000 from the trust account. Lund concluded that much of that sum was diverted to Murphy’s personal use.

“The scope of [Murphy’s] misuse of his trust account is breathtaking,” Lund wrote in his order.

Lund also determined that Murphy had failed to meet the required licensing standard of “financial responsibility, character and fitness”; failed to establish and properly use a trust account required of all loan brokers; failed to exercise “good faith and fair dealings” with his customers; and failed to properly safeguard the funds of clients.

Lund revoked Murphy’s license as a loan broker and a loan officer. He also noted that the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection shall not consider an application for a new license from Murphy for at least five years.

Lund also imposed a fine of $16,500 and ordered Murphy to pay hearing costs of $5,000. The bureau has no authority to order restitution.

Although James Bowie, a Maine assistant attorney general, said Tuesday it was possible there were other victims of Murphy’s scheme, he declined to say whether there had been additional complaints that were under investigation. He also declined to comment on whether Murphy would face criminal charges in connection with his activities.

Murphy has 30 days in which to appeal the bureau’s decision.

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