FRESNO — A key figure in the Crisp & Cole mortgage fraud ring testified Wednesday that Julie Farmer — the lone defendant in the case to go to trial — was definitely part of the “scheme” to buy and sell local properties with falsified documents, something that later cost banks millions.
Onetime company financial official Sneha Ramesh Mohammadi said Farmer developed strategy for Crisp & Cole Real Estate, was part of its “core staff” and managed about 30 to 40 employees of it and its mortgage brokerage Tower Lending.
“She was a coordinator, a go between (between) Tower Lending and Crisp & Cole, giving information to David (Crisp), giving information to us and vice versa,” said Mohammadi, who was discussing her time as Tower Lending’s office manager.
Mohammadi later became chief financial officer at Crisp & Cole. She reported to Farmer and Crisp & Cole’s leaders, David Crisp and Carl Cole, court filings say.
Mohammadi testified that Farmer would enter information into accounting software and David Crisp and Farmer would help her make payments on properties Crisp & Cole was dealing with.
Mohammadi was testifying during the second day of Farmer’s trial in U.S. District Court in Fresno, where she faces charges of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, six counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Farmer, the No. 3 person in the now-defunct Crisp & Cole real estate firm, is the only one of 15 defendants in the mortgage fraud case who didn’t take a plea deal.
She has maintained her innocence, arguing she had a limited role in the office and was not aware of any fraudulent activity or conspiracy.
Mohammadi is one of several Crisp & Cole defendants expected to testify against Farmer as part of a plea deal. She pleaded guilty in November to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced June 9.
On cross examination by Farmer’s attorney, Tony Capozzi, discussion turned to properties with which Farmer was involved in the purchase. Mohammadi said
Farmer received no money for buying the properties the way other so-called straw buyers did and that Farmer and her husband used one as a vacation home.
Mohammadi also conceded that at first she saw nothing wrong with the way Crisp & Cole was buying and selling properties. She only grew suspicious, Mohammadi testified, when she saw how quickly homes were being “flipped.”
Capozzi asked her if there’s anything wrong with flipping properties, to which Mohammadi responded that there’s not, but Crisp & Cole was doing a lot of it.
Earlier Wednesday, the sister-in-law of David Crisp testified that Farmer called her in to sign blank mortgage documents for the purchase of two homes.
Megan Balod, the sister of Crisp’s wife, Jennifer Crisp, said she believed the blank mortgage applications Farmer had her sign were filled in later by David Crisp.
The filled-in documents said she was making far more money than she was, in some cases $21,000 and $37,000 a month, in her job at Balod Consulting, which didn’t exist, Balod testified under direct examination by Deputy U.S. Attorney Christopher Baker.
Balod also said she’d be called in by David Crisp or Farmer to pick up checks for deposit into her account, in one case $60,000 to show lenders she had the means to purchase a home.
She did not get to keep that money.
Farmer “would give us a check, my husband or I,” said Balod, who at times was working as a part-time preschool teacher or nanny.
Balod also testified that Farmer in some cases handled the monthly payments on homes purchased in Balod’s name. One of the properties had a first loan totaling $612,000 and a second totaling $153,000. The other had a first loan of $636,000 and a second of $125,000.
Under cross examination by Capozzi, Balod said Farmer never went over the documents she signed with her.
Also testifying Wednesday was Christopher Lance Stovall, a former loan officer at Tower Lending. He said Farmer was “basically David (Crisp)’s right hand.”
He added that she was the person who would “make it happen” when borrowers working with Crisp & Cole needed money deposited into their checking account to show lenders they had sufficient assets to take out a loan.
He also said that when a borrower’s income was inadequate to qualify for a home loan, Farmer told him in a “matter of fact” way to go to David Crisp’s father-in-law, accountant Kevin Sluga, to get a bogus letter stating the applicant was self-employed and making enough money to get the loan.
The Crisp & Cole defendants were accused of various crimes tied to a conspiracy of defrauding lenders in part by using straw buyers — including family and friends — to buy homes at inflated prices, often with 100 percent financing, using falsified loan applications.
The properties were only nominally owned in the names of the straw buyers, the government has been alleging, and controlled by the defendants. The straw buyers typically received up to $20,000 or more for each property purchase while Crisp and Cole and other defendants received the profits from the sales.
Several homes went into foreclosure, something prosecutors say cost mortgage banks about $30 million in losses.
David Crisp and former business partner Carl Cole were recently sentenced to 17 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud.
Balod pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud in January 2010 and is scheduled to be sentenced June 2.
Stovall pleaded guilty in July 2010 to four counts of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 2.
The Farmer trial has gotten off to a fast start. On Tuesday a jury was selected, opening arguments were made and a first witness testified.
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.