Naples bank manager pleads guilty in mortgage fraud case

Scott and Heather Fawcett

Scott and Heather Fawcett

— A 43-year-old former Wachovia Bank branch manager who helped a Naples couple obtain three mortgages for $2.27 million has accepted a plea deal in return for leniency, admitting she didn’t bother to verify their faked, inflated bank balances.

Debra Landberg, 43, who was a branch manager at Wachovia Bank on Airport-Pulling Road, agreed to plead guilty to aiding and abetting Scott Fawcett, 29, a former Naples contractor, and his wife, Heather Fawcett, 28, a model, to influence Bank United into providing them with a $388,000 loan in July 2006.

The plea agreement, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, says Landberg never verified that the couple’s bank account balances totaled $353,209.09. They actually had only $13.57 in their accounts.

Landberg, who lost her job, admitted failing to perform due diligence or being indifferent by not checking the couple’s false statements. She also admitted her actions influenced the bank into providing a mortgage loan without verifying it.

She still has to formally enter her plea in court, before Steele, and no sentencing date has yet been set.

The plea was the top count in an indictment that also charged Landberg with two more counts of aiding and abetting the couple in mortgage application fraud and lying to two FBI agents in June 2009, telling them she’d only completed one application for the couple, when she notarized and verified three.

In one mortgage application Fawcett gave to Landberg on April 17, 2007, he claimed to have $177,655.58 in his bank account, when his balance was $957.18. In the third application, Landberg was accused of aiding and abetting Fawcett in getting a $1.5 million mortgage on Aug. 22, 2007, knowing his combined account balance was not $146,264.77, but $1,774.50. He cashed out $264,952.92 at closing.

In return for her plea and cooperation, Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy agreed to argue for a sentence that’s less than guidelines. She faced up to 30 years and will serve a fraction of that.

Landberg was to head to trial last week and Fawcett, who is serving 3 1/3 years in a federal prison in South Carolina, was to testify against her.

The three were among hundreds of people, including brokers, bankers, police officers, and three Lee County lawyers, targeted in a federal investigation into mortgage fraud.

Fawcett, who also will serve three years of supervised release, pleaded to filing a false mortgage application, but his wife, who’d recently had a baby, wasn’t charged. At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge John Steele pointed out his wife could easily have been charged.

The Fawcetts obtained $3.349 million in loans for six homes that were all foreclosed on. They were in Naples Park, Golden Gate, Victoria Park in North Naples, Golden Gate Estates, Royal Harbor, and Punta Gorda.

The restitution agreement says Fawcett must repay Bank United for three loans totaling $789,187.73 and a $390,723.52 JPMorganChase loan.

Collier Court records show he’s operated 15 companies, mostly in construction, has been named as a defendant in a dozen mortgage foreclosures, and is a defendant in seven lawsuits involving money owed or services not completed.

Landberg’s attorney, John P. Cardillo of Naples, declined comment, as did Molloy; the U.S. Attorney’s Office policy is not to comment until after sentencing.

The case began with a complaint by CitiMortgage that was investigated by Collier County Sheriff’s Detective Tom Zanfardino of the Economic Crimes Unit. He referred it to the FBI.

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Comments » 1

Jeff1733 writes:

I think the reporter missed something in this story. Why did the branch manager verify false info? Was there something in it for her? If not, I'm terrified to think that couple of blunders could land you in Jail for 30 years! I've verfied this type of information before. What if I transposed a number or looked up the wrong acct#. Could I go to jail for typo?

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