A 30-year-old Shaler man who was accused of involvement in hundreds of fraudulent mortgage appraisals totalling an estimated $9 million was sentenced today to eight years in federal prison.
Jason Moreno, who started in the property evaluation business at age 17 and was just 22 years old when he started Platinum Appraisal Services, was found guilty of five counts of wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud conspiracy at a September trial.
U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer concluded that the known fraudulent appraisals were just the tip of an iceberg of a career driven by “making money, living the life, showing the bling, playing golf.
“Somebody older and wiser told me once that your 30s are your best years,” the judge told Moreno near the end of a 4 1/2-hour sentencing hearing. “You’ve sold your 30s for bling.”
Moreno argued that he was just a pawn in the hands of mortgage brokers twice his age who taught him the ways of a corrupt industry.
“I was simply a dumb, naive, ambitious 21, 20-year-old that was caught up — caught up in life, money, all the things I don’t care about anymore,” Moreno told Judge Fischer. “I do deserve harsh punishment.”
Moreno admitted that his company placed an appraiser’s name on documents that weren’t done by an appraiser, touted the qualities of properties that were really deplorable,and engineered fraud-based loans in the names of his mother, his aunt and his then-fiance, now wife.
He added that “every loan broker in the city” was demanding inflated appraisals at the time in question, which was 2005 through 2007.
Christopher Buckwalter, an electrician who bought a West Deer house from Moreno in 2007 for $180,000, said the property had septic issues, not disclosed prior to purchase, that made it uninhabitable. The bank agreed to take the deed in return for his agreement to pay $20,000, little of which he has been able to afford.
“I’m not going to be able to purchase a home for a good number of years, for sure,” he said.
A bank sold the house for $50,105 in 2011. Judge Fischer ordered that Moreno pay $20,000 in restitution to Mr. Buckwalter.
Many of the people who bought homes appraised by, or financed by, Moreno’s “fraud factory” lost it all through foreclosure and have devastated credit histories, said assistant U.S. attorney Brendan Conway. “Every decision they make is impacted because Mr. Moreno wanted to wear fancy watches and drive fancy cars,” he said.
Eight character witnesses testified that Moreno had changed in recent years through Christianity and service to the homeless.
“If I hadn’t met Jason Moreno under that [Rachel Carson] bridge, it would either be me on trial today, or my funeral today,” said Joseph Crittendon, a 32-year-old man who said the defendant helped him get into shelter and off of drugs.
Federal sentencing guidelines suggested that Moreno could have faced 11 to 14 years in prison. Judge Fischer said that she imposed a lighter sentence because of his apparent rehabilitation. Moreno must report to prison by late March, and faces three years of federal probation after release.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.