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N.Y. Homebuilder Charged With Fraud

December 20, 2000 GMT

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A western New York construction tycoon, and others, were charged Wednesday with conspiring to defraud more than 50 banks out of $58.3 million in mortgage loans, federal prosecutors said.

Robert A. Amico, 60, along with his two sons, seven associates and a mortgage brokerage, were charged under a law enacted after the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s.

``This is a very, very significant financial fraud,″ U.S. Attorney Denise O’Donnell said.

Amico, 60, headed 15 family owned home-building companies, and was accused of orchestrating the conspiracy along with his eldest son, Robert.

Prosecutors said they built 185 homes in the Rochester suburbs and, using falsified documents, induced 53 financial institutions across the nation to lend them up to twice as much money as the houses were worth.

Both pleaded innocent to charges of bank fraud, mail fraud and operating a continuing criminal enterprise, in violation of a law enacted to protect federally insured financial institutions.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison and fined up to $10 million. Bail was set at $650,000 for Amico and $350,000 for his 38-year-old son, a former securities dealer.

``They were subjects of very bad business transactions,″ one defense attorney, Richard Holtzberg, said at an arraignment, adding that bail amounts were far too high.

Seven other people, including Amico’s 29-year-old son, Richard, real-estate attorney Joseph Shramek and Debra Gilliatt and her company, Capital Mortgage Network Inc., were hit with bank and mail fraud charges that carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Bail for Richard Amico was set at $100,000.

Prosecutors declined to specify how much money the nine allegedly pocketed after obtaining 210 fraudulent loans.

According to the 116-count indictment, the Amicos inflated the sales price of the houses, then offered them for sale for no money down.

They allegedly gave altered blueprints to property appraisers or created false appraisals, and two mortgage brokers submitted the documents to banks as if they had obtained the papers themselves.

Amico relocated his home-building enterprise to the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta earlier this year.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with agents from the Internal Revenue Service, began investigating in 1998 after people who bought the houses realized they were not worth nearly as much as they were led to believe and defaulted on their loans.

The scheme, first disclosed in February by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, has rattled real estate markets in upscale neighborhoods where the Amico family built most of their houses.