Feds seek life term for mortgage fraud mastermind

Posted June 24, 2011, at 6:32 p.m.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for the man convicted of orchestrating a $3 billion fraud while running what had been one of the nation’s largest private mortgage companies.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, on Friday asked for a term of no more than 15 years for Lee B. Farkas, 58, of Ocala, Fla., the former majority owner of Florida-based Taylor Bean & Whitaker.

Taylor Bean collapsed in 2009 when the fraud scheme unraveled, putting its 2,000 employees out of work. The fraud also contributed to the failure of Alabama-based Colonial bank, which had been one of the country’s 25 largest banks.

Farkas faces up to 385 years after he was convicted in April on multiple fraud counts for masterminding what prosecutors say was one of the biggest bank frauds in U.S. history.

In court papers filed Thursday, prosecutors argued that Farkas should receive the maximum and compared his conduct to Bernie Madoff and other mass swindlers.

A maximum sentence “will send the most forceful and unequivocal message to senior corporate executives that engaging in fraud and deceit in order to pump up your company or line your own pockets is unacceptable and will have severe consequences,” prosecutors wrote, saying that Farkas should receive at least a 50-year sentence.

The sentencing memorandum notes that Madoff, in a $13 billion Ponzi scheme, received a 150-year sentence even though he accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty. Farkas, on the other hand, went to trial and was convicted by a jury, and prosecutors believe he lied on the witness stand and continues to deflect responsibility.

Farkas is the last of seven employees and executives at Taylor Bean and Colonial to be sentenced. The previous six all pleaded guilty and testified against Farkas at trial. All received prison sentences ranging from three months to eight years.

The scheme stretched more than seven years and took a variety of forms. At first, Farkas and others at Taylor Bean persuaded mid-level executives to look the other way when Taylor Bean was overdrawing its main account by a few million dollars. Eventually, Taylor Bean double- and triple-pledged mortgages it held to a variety of investors. Colonial was cheated out of more than $500 million, and two other banks — Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas — lost nearly $2 billion. Taylor Bean and Colonial also tried to use their cooked books to try and obtain more than $500 million in funding in 2008 from the government’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, though neither ultimately received any TARP funds.

The government’s sentencing brief highlights the opulent lifestyle led by Farkas, which was exposed during his trial. Farkas had a private jet, a seaplane, an extensive collection of classic cars, and real estate up and down the East Coast.

Farkas’ lawyer, Bill Cummings, said in his sentencing memorandum that Farkas was a self-made man who, despite lacking a college degree, worked to build Taylor Bean from a company with six employees in 1993 to 2,600 when it collapsed.

“The whole point of the financial transactions forming the basis for the charges against Mr. Farkas was not to enrich himself but to keep TBW a viable company so that the hard working people who had helped him build TBW from nothing would continue to have good, stable, well-paying jobs,” Cummings wrote.

 

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