Appraiser gets 4 years for role in mortgage scams

by Ryan Smith29 Apr 2015
A Pennsylvania appraiser has been sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for his role in various mortgage fraud schemes involving three separate banks.

James Lignelli, 59, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to lenders he scammed by preparing phony appraisals, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Lignelli was found guilty of bank fraud at trial, but acquitted on counts of bank and wire fraud conspiracy, according to the Post-Gazette. Prosecutors accused him of providing inflated appraisals on loan applications in two scams.

The first involved Michael Pope of Pope Financial Services and Tiffany Sprouts of Sprouts Mortgage. Prosecutors said that Lignelli, Pope and Sprouts conspired to prepare inflated appraisals for a property in Peters, Penn., which was sold for $1.2 million. Lignelli also worked with Michael Staaf, operator of Beaver Financial Services, to provide fake appraisals for yet another property, the Post-Gazette reported.

Lignelli’s attorney argued that his client was a dupe who had been provided with phony information about the properties, according to the Poist-Gazette. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway said the appraiser knew exactly what he was doing and deserved no leniency.

“Over at least a four-year period, (Lignelli) was faced with a decision over and over again – should I do another fraudulent appraisal for Pope and/or Staaf?” Conway wrote in a pre-sentencing filing. “Time and time again, the defendant, motivated by greed, answered that question ‘yes’ and engaged in the repeated fraudulent conduct.”


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