Collier appraiser guilty of fraud in inflated property values

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A Collier appraiser was found guilty Wednesday on charges of bank fraud but not guilty of wire fraud conspiracy and bank fraud conspiracy in relation to three mortgage applications made over the past decade.

James Lignelli, 59, faces sentencing by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry on Sept. 26. At closing arguments on Tuesday, the prosecution suggested he was a willing tool of fraud, while the defense painted him as a hapless dupe.

U.S. attorney Brendan Conway said that Mr. Lignelli’s appraisals were central to three efforts to get fraudulent loans, on one residence and two commercial properties, that later sold at foreclosure for fractions of what he said they were worth. Though the defense said that building owners tricked Mr. Lignelli with false information about prior sales and tenant rents, Mr. Conway said an appraiser isn’t “allowed to stick your head in the sand and pretend that everything is hunky-dory.”

Defense attorney Paul Boas hammered defense witnesses, who testified against Mr. Lignelli before or after receiving breaks on their own prison sentences. One witness, Michael McFerron Pope, 49, of Upper St. Clair was sentenced in July 2009 to seven years in prison for conspiracy and money laundering but in April got that reduced to time served. Witness Michael Staaf, 45, of New Brighton was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison for money-laundering conspiracy but may now get early release.

“These guys all got deals — deals of a lifetime in exchange for their testimony and cooperation,” Mr. Boas told the jury in his closing.

Defense attorney Stephen Stallings joined Mr. Boas in representing Mr. Lignelli.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published June 11, 2014 3:37 PM

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