Christopher Godfrey and Dennis Fischer, both of Florida, have been sentenced to seven years in federal prison for cheating troubled borrowers out of more than $4 million. The pair charged delinquent homeowners between $400 and $2,000 each for mortgage-aid applications that are available for free from the federal government. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is involved in the case because the federally funded Home Affordable Modification Program is part of TARP.
Between January 2009 and May 2011, Godfrey and Fischer operated Home Owners Protection Economics (HOPE), promising to help borrowers get government-backed mortgage workouts, the inspector general said. In exchange for the hefty fees, the men and their employees would send U.S. homeowners a do-it-yourself application for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Godfrey and Fischer routinely told homeowners that they had already been approved for a loan modification; gave them phony 'approval codes'; quoted new, false mortgage terms and due dates; claimed a 98 percent past success rate; claimed to be 'underwriters' or otherwise affiliated with mortgage companies; and claimed to offer refunds if homeowners did not receive a modification. Most homeowners who applied for assistance through HOPE were denied modifications.
Meanwhile, Godfrey and Fischer spent the proceeds from their scam on vacations, luxury shopping sprees, and their own mortgage payments, according to a news release from the inspector general. They were convicted in November of one count of conspiracy, eight counts of wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, and one count of misusing a government seal. Two more defendants in the case, Vernell Burris Jr. and Brian Kelly, have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Feb. 25.