A federal jury in Alexandria has begun deliberations in the case of Lee Bentley Farkas, a Florida businessman who prosecutors say orchestrated a nearly $2 billion mortgage fraud scheme.
Farkas, 58, of Ocala, Fla., was the owner and chairman of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, which was once one of the nation’s largest privately held mortgage companies. During a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, prosecutors alleged Farkas and several co-conspirators defrauded investors and banks.
In his closing arguments Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Connolly, said Farkas spearheaded a scheme of “staggering proportions and boldness.”
Defense lawyers contend that Farkas did not do anything wrong, and said he relied upon the advice of attorneys, senior executives and auditors in overseeing the company.
The case against Farkas is one of the largest to emerge from the crisis that brought the nation’s financial system to the brink of collapse. The government alleged that the scheme eventually lead to the demise of Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank in Alabama, one of the nation’s largest regional bank.
Prosecutors say Farkas used the funds from the alleged scheme to enrich a luxurious lifestyle, which included 30 to 40 cars, a plane, a jet and houses along the East Coast.
The government alleges that from 2002 to 2009 Farkas and his co-conspirators used Taylor Bean as a middleman between lenders and investors. The firm borrowed money from Colonial Bank to buy home loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Taylor Bean would pool the loans into securities and sell them to investors. Ginnie Mae would then guarantee those securities.
But when Taylor Bean began having significant cash flow problems, the government said, Farkas and others allegedly covered the shortfall with money from Colonial Bank. They misappropriated money to cover Taylor Bean’s operating losses, authorities said.
During the trial, the government called nearly two dozen witnesses, including six co-conspirators who had pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy in the scheme. One former Taylor Bean executive testified that Farkas was “quite bullying” in dealing with those who were involved in the conspiracy.
On Friday, Farkas, who could face up to 30 years if convicted on one charge, testified for four hours.
“I didn’t believe at the time that I’d committed any crime, and I don’t believe now that I’ve committed any crime,” Farkas told the jury.
In his closing arguments, Bruce Rogow, one of Farkas’s defense lawyers, encouraged jurors to “analyze the facts of the case” and consider if they had any reasonable doubt.
He criticized the co-conspirators who testified against Farkas, saying they pleaded guilty because they didn’t want to serve long prison terms and wanted to “save their own skins” by cooperating with the government. Some of Farkas’s co-conspirators also didn’t believe what they were doing was wrong and they believed the company had collateral to back the loans it was making, Rogow told the jury.
Farkas, he said, had the “courage” to go to trial and to testify.
Farkas is charged with counts of bank, wire and securities fraud and other charges.