Saturday, February 15, 2003

Broker ordered to repay, 'suffer'

Victims' plight angers judge

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County judge Friday said she wanted a mortgage broker convicted of theft to "personally suffer" for stealing $50,000 from nearly a dozen first-time home buyers.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Melba D. Marsh ordered Pamela Sanford to use the equity in her Cheviot home to repay those she cheated.

"I can't fathom stealing from individuals who wanted a piece of the American dream," Marsh told Sanford on Friday. "They came to you for help, and you did this."

An assembler, a crossing guard, a beautician, a security guard, a store manager, a minister, a custodian - people who had very little money - lost between $2,000 and $5,000 each in the scam.

Sanford, 29, was convicted Feb. 7 on nine counts of theft. She was accused of creating debt for clients, adding it to their mortgage so it appeared to be a bank payment, and then putting the money in her personal account at Fifth Third Bank. She worked at Pengrove Mortgage Co. in Blue Ash at the time.

Last Friday, Sanford angered Marsh when she blamed her actions on "customary procedure." Sanford could not tell Marsh at the time how she planned to repay the money; police say Sanford has already spent it.

Marsh ordered Sanford to jail for a week.

When Sanford returned to court Friday, she told Marsh her mother was taking out a second loan on her home, prompting Marsh into a tirade.

Prepaid fees before closing
• Credit report:
Outlines a borrower's credit history and shows current balances. Costs: $5 to $52.
Notary fees: Fees that might be incurred on notarized loan documents. Costs: $2 to $10.
Appraisal, title search and, possibly, land survey fees: Appraisal helps establish the property value; title search ensures that lender will have the first or best lien on mortgage; survey might be done to delineate other issues that affect the property. Costs: Appraisal could range $25-$350, depending on loan amount; title search typically costs about $150; land survey can run $130-$150.
Lock-in fees: A fee that allows the borrower to lock in a mortgage interest rate. The rate should not exceed 1.5 percent of the mortgage amount.
Other fees
Origination fee: A charge to originate the mortgage. The fee generally is up to 1 percent of the mortgage amount, but could be higher.
Document preparation: Fees for various documents, including legal matters, tied to the mortgage. Costs: $50 to $150.
Processing fees: The charge to process the loan. Costs: $150 to $300.
Source: Dan Brady, president, Tri-State Mortgage Co.
"You are out of tune with reality," Marsh said. "Here is the drill: Your mother's house is not going on the block. I want you to personally suffer for this."

Marsh ordered Sanford to go to a lender - "just like these people came to you" - to take enough money out of her home and pay the victims back.

"It is you who has to pay them back," Marsh said.

Sanford must return to court April 1. "April Fool's Day, which is very fitting for this," Marsh added.

"You'll pay these people back," she said. "And, then we'll see if you go to jail."

Sanford faces up to nine years in prison.

The thefts date to late 2000, and were discovered when one of Sanford's clients found the phony fee in her mortgage. Unsure of what it was for, the woman pestered Fifth Third Bank until a fraud investigator got involved.

The Blue Ash Police Department was called and detectives found the victim wasn't alone. There were 11 others. Sanford was found guilty in nine of the cases.

"People were shocked to learn they had been victims," said Blue Ash Detective Dennis Whitman. "(Sanford) is very articulate, well-educated and cordial."

People didn't understand the process, Whitman said.

"All were first-time home buyers who may not have gotten conventional loans," Whitman said. "They were so happy to get financing, they didn't care."

In fact, last week one victim said in court: "I was so happy to have someone give me that much money to buy my own home. I've always wanted to be a homeowner."

Another victim, Brenda Fields, 50, of College Hill, said she was glad Sanford was convicted, but it doesn't help her.

The mother of six, whose husband is out of work, may lose her home because she can't afford her mortgage payment.

"She knew it was a strain and she still stole from me," said Fields, whose mortgage includes $3,200 Sanford pocketed.

"I can't believe she did this, she presented herself as intelligent and trustworthy," Fields said. "I see different now."

Sanford had worked at Pengrove since October 1999. By the end of 2000 she left the company.

"We don't put up with any kind of fraud," said Drew Reed, branch manager of Pengrove's Blue Ash office. "If I had known about it from the beginning, I would have fired her immediately."

At the time of her June 2002 arrest, Sanford was working at Cincinnati Central Credit Union as a loan officer, which Marsh noted during the hearing.

She is no longer working there, and no thefts have been discovered, said the credit union's president, Bill Herring.


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