Ex-mortgage brokers sentenced in Las Vegas fraud

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former mortgage broker and his ex-wife have drawn prison sentences after being found guilty in a Las Vegas fraud scheme that caused more than $52 million in losses to banks.

A federal judge sentenced Steven Grimm to 25 years in prison and his former wife, Eve Mazzarella, to 14 years in prison, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/GNPwHZ) Friday.

A co-defendant, Melissa Beecroft, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Roger Hunt ordered all three defendants to pay about $2.3 in restitution.

Authorities said Grimm and Mazzarella purchased properties under the names of "straw buyers," then sold them to other straw buyers at inflated prices.

Prosecutors said the five-year conspiracy caused lending institutions to make $107 million worth of mortgage loans on 227 properties. Almost all of those properties are in default.

"This is the greatest number of properties and largest loss amount of any mortgage fraud case charged in Nevada," Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada, said in a statement.

While banks are the "technical victims" in the case, "there are so many other victims," said Brian Pugh, assistant U.S. Attorney.

Pugh said all Las Vegas homeowners are the "real victims," because the fraud scheme resulted in artificially inflated housing prices and contributed to the eventual collapse of the community's housing market.

Las Vegas has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country the last several years.

Mazzarella did not speak at sentencing. Grimm briefly apologized to his victims during his hearing and asked the judge to be lenient to Beecroft.

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