December 16, 2014 / 9:25 PM / 5 years ago

Former Miami-area mayor found guilty in mortgage fraud scheme

MIAMI (Reuters) - A federal jury in Florida found a former Miami-area mayor guilty of six counts of wire fraud on Tuesday, part of a scheme that used straw buyers and false mortgage applications to collect millions from lenders.

Marie Lucie Tondreau, 54, was taken into custody and will face up to 30 years in prison at sentencing in March.

Prosecutors said Tondreau, a Haitian-American activist and radio host, used her notoriety in Miami’s Caribbean community to recruit people to provide their information for up to $10,000 to complete falsified mortgage applications.

Throughout the two-week trial her supporters, sometimes as many as two dozen, gathered in the courtroom.

A few let out sobs as U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. announced he would not permit Tondreau to remain free on bond until her sentencing. She was elected North Miami’s first female Haitian-American mayor in 2013 and was indicted and suspended from office in May 2014.

Between 2005 and 2008 Tondreau brought in 13 individuals whose identities were used to buy 20 Miami-area homes that were rented out for profit, according to prosecutors.

The $11 million mortgage fraud scheme unraveled when one straw buyer was contacted by a lender about an overdue mortgage payment, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lois Foster-Steers.

“When he went to her for help ... Ms. Tondreau said he had money in his pocket, and he shouldn’t complain,” Foster-Steers said during closing arguments on Monday.

Defense attorneys laid blame on Tondreau’s onetime fiancée Karl Oreste, who they said led the scheme and misled Tondreau, using her reputation to bring in buyers. Oreste pleaded guilty to seven wire fraud charges in July and is due to be sentenced early next year.

Neither Oreste, who was expected to take the stand as a government witness, nor Tondreau testified.

She is one of about a half dozen Miami-area mayors to face charges of wrongdoing over the past two years.

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, accused of accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents, was exonerated by a federal jury in August. Former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman will be sentenced on Friday after being found guilty in September of two felony charges tied to holding a consulting job while in office.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech

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