Smyrna real estate agent pleads guilty to mortgage fraud

Mar. 20—A Smyrna man has entered a plea of guilty to orchestrating a mortgage fraud scheme spanning four years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Robert Kelske, 52, a listing agent in Smyrna, with Eric Hill, 50, of Tyrone, represented a national homebuilder. They helped more than 100 homebuyers lie in their applications to get mortgages they did not qualify for, according to prosecutors.

Many of the loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, resulting in the FHA paying claims for mortgages that have defaulted.

"These defendants brazenly manipulated the real estate lending process by using their knowledge of the system," Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said in a statement. "Mortgage fraudsters threaten the soundness of the real estate market in our community and divert critical resources away from those borrowers who properly qualify for loans. Rooting out bad actors who attempt to abuse the system for their own personal gain makes the mortgage lending system safer and fairer for everyone."

Hill and Kelske coordinated with multiple document fabricators, who altered the homebuyers' bank statements to inflate their assets and created bank entries reflecting false direct deposits from an employer selected by the real estate agent. The document fabricators also generated fake earnings statements that matched the direct deposit entries to make it appear that the homebuyer was employed, and earning income, from a fake employer.

Other participants in the scheme, including Maurice Lawson, 36, of Powder Springs, acted as employment verifiers, prosecutors said.

Another real estate agent, Anthony Richard, claimed to represent homebuyers he had never met to receive commissions, sending the majority to Hill or Kelske, according to the Justice Department.

The following defendants have pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States:

— Eric Hill, 50, of Tyrone, Georgia

— Robert Kelske, 52, of Smyrna, Georgia

— Fawziyyah Connor, 41, of Tyrone, Georgia

— Stephanie Hogan, 57, of Norcross, Georgia

— Jerod Little, 42, of McDonough, Georgia

— Renee Little, 33, of McDonough, Georgia

— Maurice Lawson, 36, of Powder Springs, Georgia

— Todd Taylor, 54, of Fairburn, Georgia

— Paige McDaniel, 49, of Stockbridge, Georgia

— Donald Fontenot, 52, of Locust Grove, Georgia

— Anthony Richard, 44, of Locust Grove, Georgia

They agreed to pay restitution to the victims of their conspiracy, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which insures many of the residential mortgages in the United States. Sentencing hearings have been set for these defendants before U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen.

A 12th defendant, Cephus Chapman, 49, of Warner Robins, Georgia is awaiting trial. The indictment only contains charges and the defendant is presumed innocent unless the government proves him guilty at trial.