Fenton's mortgage fraud kingpin

The ringleader of one of the largest mortgage fraud rings in the country pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court and faces a lengthy prison term.

According to the Detroit News, 45 year old Ronnie Duke of Fenton admitted his role in a four-year scheme that federal agents say generated as much as $100 million in losses as he and his co-defendants turned fake loans into high-end travel, upscale homes, expensive boats and even a helicopter. Duke is free on bond and faces 10-15 years in prison, prosecutors say.

Duke and others were charged previously on allegations they were involved in 500 fraudulent mortgages, in which they faked appraisals and loan documents to secure millions from mortgage companies. Eight others have previously pleaded guilty for their roles.

"Mortgage fraud harms our community because foreclosures lead to vacant homes, which lower property values and serve as havens for criminal activity," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement.

The FBI had been investigating the Duke ring for years and had seized thousands of pages of documents and sought forfeiture of businesses, a boat and homes as investigators tried to unravel the wide-ranging scheme that involved almost all levels of the mortgage process.

Duke had control of title companies and worked with people who would file fraudulent documents that yielded the loans.

Duke's attorney, Harold Gurewitz, said his client could have gotten up to 30 years if convicted on the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

"He pled guilty and took responsibility for his involvement in the actions that were alleged," Gurewitz said. The scheme touched hundreds of homes in the region, many in Livingston and Oakland counties. In some cases, the ring got hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan money from multiple mortgage companies for the same property.

From 2004-07, the FBI alleges that Duke and the others would arrange for loans and then take a portion of the loan money for themselves. Sometimes, straw buyers would get paid for their efforts and the initial monthly payments would be made.

However, those payments would stop, and in 80 percent of the cases involving homes, the residence would be allowed to go into foreclosure.

The ring targeted homes ranging from $350,000 to $600,000, according to the FBI, citing transactions involving properties in Fenton, Highland Township and Davisburg.

Duke is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 15 before U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook.

From The Detroit News: