BULLETIN: Church Pastor (And Recidivist Felon) Charged In Alleged Mortgage-Fraud Caper; Michael Wilkerson Accused Of Recruiting Congregants To Dupe Bank In $6 Million Scheme

BULLETIN: A church pastor, his wife and two real-estate brokers have been charged in an elaborate mortgage-fraud caper in which congregants allegedly were recruited as “straw purchasers” in a scheme that led to a patch of foreclosures and cost Chase Manhattan Bank $3 million.

Pastor Michael Wilkerson presided over New Life Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship in Montgomery County, Pa., prosecutors said. Wilkerson identified church members with good credit and paid them $15,000 to sign loan documents.

If they were able to recommend others with good credit to do the same thing, Wilkerson paid them another $5,000 as a recruitment commission, prosecutors said. The scheme allegedly netted $6 million in fraudulent proceeds.

Joyce Wilkerson, the pastor’s wife, explained the scheme to the straw purchasers, paid them to be “straws” and also “pretended” to be a co-purchaser when the straws attended the property settlements.

Lee Garell, a real-estate broker with Long & Foster Cos., prepared the illicit paperwork for the straw purchases, and Denise Haines, a broker with American Group Mortgage Corp., submitted fraudulent loan applications to Chase, prosecutors said.

“[A]fter settlement on the homes, Michael Wilkerson took possession of all of the homes, rented four of them and lived in another,” prosecutors said.  “He paid the mortgages with rental income for approximately six months then told the ‘straw’ purchasers that they had to pay the mortgages. This last act led to the loans falling into default and then foreclosure, resulting in a loss of approximately $3 million.”

Bogus appraisals were part of the scheme, and information about the “straws” was fudged. Other misrepresentations included “the source of funds, the borrower’s income and assets, and their intent to take possession of the homes as their primary residence,” prosecutors said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that Michael Wilkerson is a former television evangelist. Meanwhile, the Pottstown Mercury is reporting that Wilkerson is a recidivist jailbird who spent time in prison prison for an earlier fraud scheme and was arrested in a separate case in 2009 on charges of writing a bad check for $111,000 to a Mercedes-Benz dealer.

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