A Tarrytown couple apologized in court today, moments before they were sentenced to state prison for their roles in what a judge described as “sham real estate transactions” that cost four Westchester families their homes.
“The hurt I caused people … I realize I’ve done wrong,” said a choked-up Hubert “Phil” Hall, who with his wife Doreen Swenson will serve two to six years in prison for helping to set up the phony mortgages.
The couple had agreed to serve the prison term when they pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud, both felonies. They are among a group of eight — including four lawyers — who prosecutors say worked together to swindle vulnerable people in Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Cortlandt and Mount Vernon who were about to lose their homes.
The suspects are accused of promising the homeowners that they would help save the homes, but instead left them with nothing. At their court appearance, Swenson and Hall, both 61, each paid criminal restitution of $36,290. A civil suit against them and the other defendants is pending.
“I’m just sorry I caused any harm to anyone,” Swenson said in court. “I never meant to do so.”
Four suspects in the alleged mortgage scheme are fighting charges that they cost four families their homes and swindled two mortgage lenders out of $1.4 million. Lawyers Eileen Potash of Queens, Mildred Didio of Manhattan and Frank Corigliano of Newtown, Conn. and Amerigo DiPietro of Brewster, who owned Interstate Monetary Concepts in Briarcliff Manor, are scheduled to go to trial later this month.
Meanwhile, two other defendants have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.
Lawyer David Reback of Rye Brook pleaded to four counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count each of conspiracy and scheme to defraud. He will be sentenced Oct. 8 and will serve either a year at the Westchester County jail ore one to three years in state prison, depending on how much money he can pay back, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Wilma Shkreli of Westwood, N.J., also known as Wilma Gecay, is to be sentenced Aug. 31 to five years’ probation after pleading guilty to second-degree grand larceny. She allegedly posed an an investor.
Prosecutors said the three-year scam went like this:
The group found their victims through notices of public auction or foreclosure. They reached out to them and gained their trust, saying they could transfer their deed to an investor, who would hold the title for 12 to 24 months so they could save money and reclaim their home.
But once the “investor” took title, phony checks were presented to the lenders for much higher amounts than what the straw buyer paid for the home. Those checks allowed the group’s members to get inflated mortgages, which they used to pay off the original mortgage and keep the remainder for themselves.
With the homes stripped of their equity, the former owners had nothing.
Pre-trial hearings for the four-defendant trial are scheduled to begin Aug. 9. Defense lawyers for the for real estate attorneys have said their clients were paid a standard rate of $750 to $1,500 for each closing and didn’t make any extra money on the alleged scheme.