A Washington-area businessman has been arrested in connection with charges he bilked prospective clients of more than $150,000 in advance fees for loans he never produced, the FBI said yesterday.
Robert Ballard Surles, 35, owner of Investment Resources Inc. of Silver Spring, was taken into custody at his Vienna home late last week by agents of the FBI's Alexandria field office. He was charged with wire fraud, mail fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property, according to federal law enforcement officials.
An FBI spokesman in Baltimore said victims of the alleged scheme included residents of Virginia, the District of Columbia, California, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
"Surles would obtain a fee, promise a loan, then stall or find a legal setback," the FBI said. "As a result, no loan would be obtained and the victim would not be refunded his fee."
An affidavit filed by the FBI said Surles' wife, Lynn, left him over his alleged business activities and quoted her as saying that Surles once told her, "Yeah, I ripped the guy off," and "better in my pocket than in someone else's." The affidavit also said three of Surles' employes quit "due to Robert Surles' constant lying to clients and failure to keep appointments."
In one case cited in court documents, Benjamin Mollema and Steven Risley of Richmond, seeking $750,000 in March to purchase and relocate the Prince Georges Country Club, met with Surles in the District of Columbia. Several days later, Surles called Mollema to tell him that he could get the loan, but needed "$30,000 up front to 'grease palms,'" the affidavit said.
Mollema and Risley then gave Surles a $30,000 cashier's check, believing that Surles had set up a $1 million loan with a New York pension fund, according to the affidavit. A contract provided that Mollema and Risley would get their money back in 48 hours if Surles' company failed to negotiate financing, the affidavit said. 4
By May, Mollema had contacted the FBI and a $30,000 refund check from Surles, drawn on a closed Bank of Virginia account, had bounced, the FBI said. A telephone call to First American Savings and Loan of Virginia, where the loan money was supposed to be sent, revealed that officials there had never considered Surles' deal, the affidavit said.
In another of the alleged schemes, the FBI said Walter M. Thompson of Sacramento, Calif., paid Surles a $15,000 fee late last year to secure a $450,000 loan for a mining project in Pennsylvania.
Surles later became "very evasive and contradictive in the progress or status of the loans," according to an FBI affidavit. Thompson has not received the loan or a refund and has implemented civil proceedings, the FBI said.
Surles is being held in D.C. Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond. A hearing to determine whether to transfer the case to federal court in Baltimore is scheduled for Friday.