A 46-year-old Florida builder convicted of bank fraud, money laundering, and identity theft tied to three different banks and Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds was sentenced on January 16 to six years in federal prison and ordered to pay back more than $3.7 million.
Lawrence Allen Wright, of Niceville, Florida, pleaded guilty to seven charges, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and making a false statement to a federally insured financial institution, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Christy Romero, federal special inspector general for TARP (SIGTARP), said that Wright recruited straw buyers to help him secure money from Countrywide Home Loans‒‒which became Bank of America, a TARP recipient‒‒by providing inflated income claims and using his ex-wife's forged signature.
Wright admitted to conspiring to use the Countrywide loans to buy unimproved lots in Walton County, Florida, and build homes on them. Romero said that Wright promised the straw buyers he would make payments on the loans and pay the earnest money deposit and closing costs for them. Wright also said he would sell the properties for a profit after he built the homes and split the profits with the straw buyers, Romero said.
According to SIGTARP, Wright also defrauded Regions Bank, which later received TARP funds, by having his cronies forge his ex-wife’s signature on mortgage loan documents, promissory notes, and tax returns. Wright also pleaded guilty to defrauding GulfSouth Private Bank, another eventual TARP recipient, when he submitted a HUD-1 form with an inflated payoff estimate for a property he was purchasing so that he could obtain a larger loan for the property. This enabled Wright to pocket nearly $200,000, Romero said. Wright defrauded Beach Community Bank in a similar scheme.
GulfSouth was shut down by federal regulators in 2012. It's closure cost taxpayers $7.5 million in TARP investment and the bank had close to $500,000 in past-due dividends and interest payments as a result of holding TARP funds.
Bank of America received $45 billion in TARP funds that it repaid in full in 2009. Regions Financial Corporation, the parent company of Regions Bank, received $3.5 billion in TARP funds, which it repaid in full in 2012.
This case was investigated by SIGTARP, the IRS, the FDIC and the Okaloosa County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany H. Eggers.