A South Florida closing agent has pled guilty to federal conspiracy and fraud charges for her role in two mortgage fraud schemes in which lenders were induced by fraud to make over $1 million in bad loans.
Michelle Austin-Wilks, 38, of Parkland, Florida, has pled guilty to four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with two separate but similar straw buyer schemes.
At the time of the crimes, Wilks operated Direct Title & Escrow Services, Inc., in Oakland Park, Florida and also Fantastic Title Services and Michelle's Processing Services in Boca Raton, Florida. Austin-Wilks and others allegedly used straw buyers to buy and sell various properties in Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida. One of the schemes involved nine properties in Country Cove Estates, a Broward County development. The members of the scheme induced banks to make large loans based on fraudulent mortgage loan applications and closing statements.
Austin-Wilks participated in the schemes by creating and submitting to lenders false HUD-1 Settlement Statements that, among other things, reflecting an inflated sales price and falsely represented to the lenders that the straw buyers were bringing their own money to closing. She also created and submitted another set of HUD-1 Settlement Statements to the sellers for the same real estate transaction, reflecting the true sales price.
As a result of the frauds, lenders wired a cumulative total of over $12 million in mortgage loan proceeds into bank accounts controlled by Austin-Wilks. Austin-Wilks allegedly paid off her co-conspirators from the accounts, and paid herself from through bogus "processing fees" to her own company.
As the schemes fell apart, Austin-Wilks left the country. U.S Marshalls tracked down Austin-Wilks in Jamaica and brought her back to the United States to face justice for her crimes.