Montco pastor convicted in mortgage scam

Posted: February 28, 2013

A Pottstown pastor was convicted Tuesday in a complicated mortgage scam in which he recruited members of the congregation to obtain $6 million in fraudulent loans from JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Michael Wilkerson, pastor of New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship; his wife, Joyce; and two others were charged in the scheme, which took place between 2006 and 2008.

Michael Wilkerson, who had set up a business that "purported to be a real estate development company," would approach members who had good credit about acting as "straw purchasers" for several homes in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and Glenmoore, Chester County, federal prosecutors said.

He and his wife paid the straw buyers $15,000 each upon settlement and then used their names to obtain loans, prosecutors said. The purchasers would receive an extra $5,000 if they recommended other potential straw purchasers, according to court documents.

The Wilkersons and their codefendants - Lee Garrell, a real estate broker, and Denise Haines, a mortgage broker - made it appear that the straw buyers had shown up at the settlements with significant amounts of cash. But all the money involved was Chase's.

Fake loan applications misrepresented the appraised value of the properties, the names of the purchasers, and the borrowers' incomes and assets, prosecutors said. The applications stated falsely that the buyers were going to use the homes as their primary residences.

Based on the phony information, Haines knew she could get Chase to approve the loans, prosecutors said. The four then shared in the profits from the sales.

After the purchases, Michael Wilkerson moved into one home and rented at least two of them, using rent money from tenants and loan money from Chase to pay the mortgages. After six months, he told the straw buyers that they had to pay the mortgages, after which the loans fell into foreclosure.

The indictments were presented in 2011. Haines also was convicted Tuesday, and the maximum sentence each would face would be 180 years in prison, plus $6 million in fines. Sentencing is scheduled for June.

Wilkerson's court-appointed lawyer, Billy Smith, said that his client respected the court's decision but that he was considering appealing.

Garrell and Joyce Wilkerson pleaded guilty and will be sentenced, he in April and she in May.

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, at or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

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