Man pleads guilty in $45 million real estate fraud

A former Summerville mortgage officer who perpetrated a $45 million real estate fraud that caused banks to lose more than $20 million pleaded guilty Friday.

Scott M. Wickersham, 33, stood before U.S. District Court Judge Sol Blatt for about an hour, telling Blatt he fully understood the deal he made last summer with prosecutors.

Wickersham politely answered yes-and-no questions but said little else. He will be sentenced later for his role in what is shaping up as the region’s biggest-ever housing-boom scam.

Prosecutors have tied Wickersham and unidentified “others” to a property-flipping scheme involving at least 86 real estate purchases, mostly in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Nineteen of the sales were in the Charleston area.

Wickersham was a loan officer for North American Mortgage Group LLC and a real estate agent and part-owner of Realty Executives of Coastal Carolina. Both businesses operated out of a Summerville office.

Prosecutors said he and co-conspirators sought “to unlawfully enrich themselves” by submitting bogus loan documents and inflated appraisals to obtain $45 million to purchase real estate at exorbitant prices, often for buyers they had recruited.

After the sellers were paid, some of the inflated loan proceeds went to Wickersham and others as commissions or bonuses. In some cases, they found renters or paid the mortgages for the new owners until the properties could be “flipped,” or resold, at a profit, prosecutors said.

The fraud took place between April 2006 and November 2007, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It unraveled when property values began to falter during the last recession.

Wickersham faces up to 36 years in prison and fines totaling $1.5 million, based on one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud, according to the plea agreement. He also has agreed to pay the Internal Revenue Service about $257,000 in restitution based on two counts of filing false tax returns.

No one else has been charged in the case, but Wickersham has agreed to provide investigators with “substantial assistance” in the pursuit of any co-conspirators. In exchange, the government said it would consider recommending a reduced sentence.

Wickersham also waived nearly all of his rights to appeal his case in the future, a point that the judge went over at length Friday.

“Now that’s a big right you’re giving up, you understand that?” Blatt said.

“Yes, sir, I do,” Wickersham responded, shortly before signing the document.

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