With family members and friends looking on, two Florida men were sentenced in US District Court in Boston Thursday to seven years in prison for running a $4 million scheme that defrauded thousands of homeowners who were facing financial difficulties including the foreclosure of their homes.
The pair, Christopher S. Godfrey, 44, of Delray Beach, Fla., and Dennis Fischer, 42, of Highland Beach, Fla., set up a company called Home Owners Protection Economics Inc. that erroneously promised struggling homeowners preapproval for a federally funded mortgage modification. In exchange, they charged an up-front fee as high as $2,000. The customers could have applied for the modification themselves for free.
The homeowners, however, had no advantage in the application process and in most cases the applications were denied.
The two men used the telemarketing fraud scheme to pay for trips to Dubai and the South of France, and to shop at luxury stores and pay for their own mortgages on waterfront homes and condominiums, according to authorities.
Both men were convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, and misusing a government seal after a two-week trial in November. They must also pay restitution that could climb to $187,000 to victims who have not yet been reimbursed.
“What the trial showed was both the defendants lied about what they were selling,” US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel said in handing out the sentences, adding that they were both “cowardly” in refusing to address their customers’ complaints.
Both Godfrey and Fischer told Zobel they were ashamed and they apologized, but the judge said it was the first time she saw any signs of contrition from them.
Prosecutors had asked that the men serve 10 years in prison. They both faced more than 20 years under sentencing guidelines, though Zobel said the guideline calculations were too severe for the crimes that occurred.
Two other defendants in the case, Vernell Burris Jr. and Brian Kelly, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Feb. 25.
US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz welcomed the sentences, saying, “These convictions and sentences should send the message that those who prey on the most economically vulnerable among us to line their own pockets will be caught, convicted, and given the long prison sentences they deserve.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.