Ex-fugitive arraigned on charges tied to $50 million mortgage fraud scheme

By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 9:22 PM

An Ashburn real estate agent who fled the United States in July 2009 was arraigned in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Tuesday on charges stemming from an alleged mortgage scheme that defrauded lenders of $50 million, according to authorities.

Diane H. Frederick Atari, 43, was arrested in Turkey in October 2009 and arrived at Dulles International Airport on Friday after a 16-month extradition process. She was indicted in July 2009 and faces a possible sentence of up to 280 years in prison if convicted on 12 felony charges, including providing false statements, racketeering and money laundering, investigators said.

In her first court appearance since her return last week, Atari made an unexpected and emotional statement, telling Loudoun County Circuit Court Chief Judge James H. Chamblin that she thought she had been unfairly and exclusively targeted.

"I have been a business owner in Loudoun County for 15 years," she said. "I've run an honest business. . . . I have raised my family in this county."

She said that investigators were trying "to put everything on my company" and claimed that 65 other people were involved in the fraud.

"I stand here by myself," she said. "It's not justice. It's not fair. . . . I've tried to offer my cooperation, to say it was other companies, it was not my company."

Standing alone at the defendant's table, clad in a striped inmate's jumpsuit, Atari's voice began to break.

"All I've ever asked is for the truth," she said, starting to cry. "You can't put all of this on me. I'm a real estate agent. I don't do loans."

Chamblin told her that while her comments ultimately may be relevant to the case, they could not be taken into proper consideration until a later date. Atari, who has not chosen a lawyer to represent her but said she plans to do so soon, will appear in court again March 11 with her attorney for a scheduling hearing.

Atari owned and operated ACR Consulting and Atari Management, both in Loudoun. Her clients were typically prospective homeowners who were unable to qualify for mortgages because of bad credit or low income.

"This woman preyed on vulnerable people to pursue and live the American dream," Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman (R) said at a news conference Tuesday.

Atari is charged with fraudulently fixing her clients' credit scores and inflating their incomes on financial records so they could qualify for mortgage loans that they would not have received otherwise, according to authorities. She is alleged to have personally netted more than $1 million in fees and commission payments from the scheme, which involved more than 100 victims in Virginia, investigators said.

Most of the homes were purchased from 2006 to 2008 in eastern Loudoun and Fairfax counties, according to authorities.

Investigators said Atari helped boost her clients' credit scores by asking credit card companies to add her clients as "authorized users" of cards that belonged to her associates, who had excellent credit.

She also is accused of falsifying her clients' employment records and other documents, inflating their financial standings and even depositing her own funds into clients' bank accounts to show higher balances, authorities said.

Many of the houses purchased by Atari's clients ultimately went into foreclosure, according to investigators.

Plowman responded to Atari's pleas after the hearing, saying investigators would be willing to speak with her if she had additional facts or names to provide.

"Certainly if she thinks there's more to this than we know about . . . we're ready to listen," he said. "The ball's in her court."

Atari was married to Ali H. Atari, an Ashburn restaurateur who is believed to be a relative of Loudoun businessman Osama El-Atari, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in August in connection with a $71 million bank loan scam.

Atari is being held without bail at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company