Two leaders of a nationwide mortgage relief scam that defrauded more than 3,200 homeowners across the nation out of more than $12 million received their prison sentences this week.
Dean Gregory Chandler, 50, the former president, CEO and attorney of sham law firm First American Law Center, will spend 12 years for his role in a loan modification scheme. One of Chandler’s ex-employees, Michael Eccles, 35, a former manager in First American Law Center’s telemarketing call center, was sentenced to five years.
The men were convicted in November following a three-week trial in which multiple victims of the scheme came from across the country to testify about their experiences. According to evidence presented at trial, Chandler created First American Law Center in 2009 in partnership with convicted drug trafficker Gary Bobel (who was separately convicted and sentenced for his role in the scheme). Chandler arranged to have Bobel oversee the call center and its teams of telemarketers, who pitched loan modification services on behalf of the law center.
Those telemarketers, including Eccles, promised potential clients that a panel of attorneys would pre-screen applicants’ financial information to ensure that only the most qualified applicants would be approved as clients of the law firm; that a team of attorneys would negotiate with clients’ mortgage lenders; that those attorneys would draft all documents to be submitted to the mortgage lenders; that the “attorney retainer fee” averaging $3,495 would be preserved in an attorney client trust account until the client was satisfied; and that clients were protected by a money-back guarantee.
When Eccles was promoted to manager of the call center in December 2009, he scripted additional lies for the telemarketers to use with clients, including that the law firm had been in business since 1992; that it had been successfully modifying loans for over 20 years; that it had helped more than 100,000 homeowners; and that it took attorneys, on average, 200 hours to complete a successful loan modification — all to suggest that the clients could take hope and comfort in the expertise and established success of the “law firm” they had hired. The telemarketers even persuaded homeowners to pay the company’s fees instead of using their limited funds to stay current on their mortgage payments, investigators charged.
According to witness testimony and documented evidence, despite serving as the face of the law firm, Chandler had almost no role in the loan modification process. He did not pre-screen applications or negotiate with lenders.
Overall, the firm failed to modify three out of every four loans, failed to keep client funds in an attorney trust account and funneled client funds into various accounts to pay co-schemers, sales commissions and company expenses. It also failed to honor its own money-back guarantee to clients who requested it, according to the investigation and trial.
Chandler was convicted of eight felony counts: Three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy and money laundering. Eccles was convicted of five counts: Conspiracy and two counts each of mail fraud and wire fraud.
Thirteen defendants have been convicted for taking part in the scheme, among them Bobel, who received a sentence of seven years and eight months.