A former Philadelphia-area pastor was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in federal prison for his part in a $6.4 million mortgage fraud scheme, according to a report by the Reading (Pa.) Eagle.
Michael Wilkerson Sr., 47, was convicted in February of bank fraud, the Eagle reported. Prosecutors say Wilkinson, along with three co-conspirators, fraudulently obtained $6.4 million in mortgage loans, with which he purchased five homes. Wilkerson and his wife lived in one of the homes, and he rented four others to members of his church who acted as straw buyers to obtain the loans, the Eagle reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita D. Eve said Wilkerson made about $300,000 from each of the fraudulent loans.
“Wilkerson's conduct was emblematic of the housing bubble; that is tell any lie to get the money you want, take the money and push the problems that come with the actual home financing and payment down the road,” Eve wrote in a court memorandum.
In addition to his prison term, Wilkerson was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution.
At his sentencing, Wilkerson insisted that he hadn’t known he was breaking the law.
“I never thought I was committing a crime,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good thing, then I found out I was not. I ask for mercy.”
U.S. Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg, however, didn’t believe Wilkerson was ignorant of the law, according to the Eagle.
“I am not buying any of this,” Goldberg said. “You lied to a lending entity about a lot of information regarding straw purchases. You can continue to deny this, but that is not going to do you any good.”
Goldberg had reason to doubt the former pastor. In 2001, Wilkerson was convicted of cheating contractors who built his $1.7 million Union Township, Pa., home, according to the Eagle.