Former Clarke County Attorney Ronald Lee Wheeler, 69, of Murray pleaded guilty to making a false statement to a financial institution, last week, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt. Wheeler entered his guilty plea before Senior United States District Judge Ronald E. Longstaff, who scheduled sentencing for May 20, 2011.
The Sentinel-Tribune reported in May that Wheeler had been indicted April 29 in U.S. District Court on two counts of supplying a false statement to a financial institution. According to court documents, Wheeler served as a “straw buyer” during the purchase of an Ankeny property in 2006.
According to reports, it was at this time that Wheeler allegedly lied about his finances and misled financiers to believe he intended to live in the property so two mortgages could be acquired under his name.
According to the written plea agreement, Wheeler participated in the purchase of a
property on NE Berwick Drive in Ankeny, along with Russell Eugene Blessman, during
the spring of 2006. Blessman negotiated the purchase price of the property, which was then
purchased in Wheeler's name.
Documents reported, Blessman obtained properties to be “rejuvenated” in an effort to garner a higher selling price by seeking clients to purchase the properties in their names through a mortgage. These clients were then compensated with profits made through the property’s eventual sale.
Wheeler admitted that he signed a residential loan application on June 16, 2006, which contained a number of false statements, as follows: - Listing Wheeler's monthly income at approximately $30,000 when, in fact, Wheeler's monthly income was approximately $8,000;
- Listing the balance in Wheeler's checking/savings account as $500,000, when the
balance actually was approximately $5,000; and
- Falsely indicating that Wheeler intended to make the property his primary
residence when, in fact, he never intended to live there.
Wheeler also admitted in the written plea agreement that the seller of the property provided the down payment, in the amount of approximately $193,716, with a “carry back” mortgage to the seller. The “carry back” mortgage was not disclosed on the residential loan application.
Wheeler also admitted in the written plea agreement that he obtained a second mortgage
on this property on or about July 22, 2006, in the amount of $484,000, acting on instructions
from Blessman, again signing a loan application that falsely claimed that Wheeler intended to
reside at the property on Berwick Drive and making other false, material statements regarding his assets and income.
In a letter to the Sentinel-Tribune earlier this year, Wheeler had called the situation his worst nightmare saying he knew Blessman for a couple years and believed him to be a legitimate and successful real-estate investor.
Wheeler stated in his letter that at first there was nothing about this venture that appeared improper but later learned that the person was running a real-estate scam, which “substantially damaged his life” along with the lives of several other victims.
The plea agreement states that sentencing is within the discretion of the sentencing judge,
but that both the defendant and the government will recommend that the court impose a sentence of probation. Wheeler also agrees to pay restitution as determined by the Court.
Wheeler was charged in a superseding indictment along with Blessman and Gregory
Robert Beck. The superseding indictment alleged that the Blessman arranged for Wheeler to
serve as the "straw buyer" for the property on NE Berwick Drive, and that Blessman,
Wheeler and Beck participated in making false statements to a financial institution regarding Wheeler’s assets and income and his intention to reside at the property on NE Berwick Drive. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, an indictment, standing alone, is merely an accusation, and defendants named in an indictment are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.
Beck, 36, who at the time was a loan officer for Mid-American Mortgage, pleaded guilty
to one count of making a false statement to a financial institution on February 9, 2011, and his
sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 13, 2011.
A change of plea hearing for Blessman is
scheduled for tomorrow (Feb. 25).
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Des Moines Resident Agency and was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.
United States Attorney Klinefeldt, together with the FBI and other state and federal law
enforcement partners, including the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, is continuing to make investigation and prosecution of mortgage fraud a prosecution priority in the Southern District of Iowa.