Former chamber of commerce CEO faces mortgage fraud charges

He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted

Former chamber of commerce CEO faces mortgage fraud charges

The former president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce was slated to appear in federal court on Tuesday after being charged with lying to a mortgage lender about his assets while seeking a loan for a $1.5 million home in the San Bernardino mountains, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California disclosed.

Todd Ament, 57, of Orange, Calif., was charged in a 99-page criminal complaint filed Monday in US District Court, with making false statements to a financial institution while seeking funding in late 2020 to buy a second home – a five-bedroom house in Big Bear City, according to justice officials.

An affidavit supporting the criminal complaint details a plot in which Ament – with help from a political consultant who was a partner at a national public relations firm – devised a scheme to launder proceeds intended for the chamber of commerce through the PR firm into Ament’s bank account, according to the US Attorney’s Office. The cash infusion – made to appear as a loan from the PR firm – is alleged to have influenced the lender’s decision to finance the mortgage, authorities said.

According to the affidavit, the scheme resulted in a series of wire transfers from the PR firm that ultimately netted Ament $205,000 to make it appear he had enough cash on hand to secure the home loan. The affidavit further outlines how Ament allegedly used some of that money for the down payment and a portion of it to make an out-of-escrow payment to the seller. Per the affidavit, Ament made a $200,000 payment to the seller in an apparent effort to reduce the sale price of the home – thus reducing property taxes and lowering the commission to the seller’s real estate agent, the affidavit outlines.

Read more: Report reveals significant increase in mortgage fraud risk

The scheme appears to be part of a broader “cabal,” as outlined in the affidavit. The investigation found Ament and the political consultant had a close relationship spanning several years that included a group of Anaheim public officials, consultants and business leaders. The group – described by Ament and the political consultant as a “family” and “cabal” – regularly met at so-called retreats to allegedly exert influence over government operations in Anaheim, as outlined in the affidavit.          

According to justice officials, Ament and the political consultant are also accused of devising a scheme to divert proceeds meant for the chamber of commerce through the PR firm and into Ament’s personal bank account. The affidavit further alleges Ament and the consultant schemed to defraud a cannabis company that had retained the political consultant to lobby for favorable cannabis-related legislation in Anaheim. The cannabis firm paid $225,000 to the chamber of commerce with the understanding that it would have access to a task force that crafted such legislation, officials said, but at least $31,000 of that money was paid directly to Ament without those payments being disclosed to the client.

The charge of making false statements to a financial institution carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.

Read next: Mortgage fraud risk is down thanks to less-risky refi transactions

According to a recent report, mortgage fraud is on the rise – back to pre-pandemic levels. CoreLogic late last year issued a report revealing a 37.2% year-over-year spike in mortgage fraud in the second quarter of 2021. According to the report, about one in 120 mortgage applications – roughly 0.83% of all applications – contained fraud at levels recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparison, one in 164 applications (about 0.61% of the total submitted) were fraudulent in the second quarter of 2020.

A low mortgage environment and a record volume of refinances made transactions less risky. However, there was a turnaround in purchase loan fraud risk, which rose by 6% – an increase driven mainly by the surge in high-risk investment properties.

“Refinance opportunities that surged lending volumes during the pandemic may be winding down. The outlook is for fewer low-risk refinances compared to purchases and cash-out refinances, which translates to a higher-risk environment for fraud,” said Ann Regan, executive, product management at CoreLogic.

Nevada (+44.83%) was the state most susceptible to mortgage application fraud risk in the second quarter. New York (+12.38%), Hawaii (+37.71%), Florida (+37.45%), and California (+38.53%) rounded out the top five.