Miami-area mayor charged in alleged mortgage fraud scheme

MIAMI Mon May 19, 2014 6:20pm EDT

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MIAMI May 19 (Reuters) - A Miami-area mayor has been charged as part of an alleged mortgage fraud scheme that bilked more than $8 million from lenders, officials said on Monday.

Marie Lucie Tondreau, the mayor of North Miami, faces up to 30 years in prison for six counts of wire fraud, federal officials said in an unsealed indictment.

She is the fourth Miami area mayor to be indicted in the last year, and the first woman.

Prosecutors allege the 54-year-old Tondreau, who last year was elected North Miami's first female Haitian-American mayor, used her weekly radio show and illegal cash payments to recruit buyers to lie on mortgage applications to obtain loans that were never used to buying homes.

Tondreau also received payments for recruiting fake buyers, prosecutors allege.

Benedict Kuehne, Tondreau's lawyer, said in a statement that she is not guilty and intends to be vindicated.

"Mayor Tondreau is surprised and disappointed that she and her legal team were given no opportunity to speak with the prosecutors about this charge in advance," Kuehne said.

Three others, including a mortgage company owner, a radio show host and a former attorney, were also charged in the indictment.

Manuel MaroƱo, a former mayor of Sweetwater, a Miami suburb, began serving a 40-month sentence in February after pleading guilty to accepting thousands of dollars of kickbacks for signing off on bogus government grant applications.

He was indicted along with Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Steve Bateman, a former mayor of Homestead, was arrested last year on corruption charges for allegedly failing to disclose that he worked as a paid consultant for a health clinic company looking to expand in the city.

He was also charged with improper use of campaign funds. He has pleaded not guilty.

Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina was acquitted by a Miami federal jury in April on charges of conspiring to avoid paying taxes on $2 million in income and lying to authorities. (Editing by Kevin Gray. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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