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Utah man to plead guilty to Putnam mortgage scheme

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The last member of a cross-state network of mortgage fraudsters will plead guilty to his part in a complicated scheme that bamboozled investors in Putnam County real estate out of more than $1.5 million.

Raymond P. Morris, the reported leader of a Utah investor group, signed a plea agreement early last month, apparently admitting to at least some of the 18 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and mail fraud conspiracy he faced for his part in a "flipping" scheme involving homes in Hurricane's Stonegate subdivision, according to a court brief filed by U.S. Attorney Thomas C. Ryan.

The filing, which is actually a request to postpone the sentencing for one of Morris' alleged co-conspirators, does not indicate the charges to which the Utah man will admit. Morris' lawyers have requested that a judge schedule a guilty-plea hearing, according to Morris' own court file.

Morris still could choose to withdraw from a guilty plea discussion and proceed to a trial.

The plea would mark the last conviction for a cast of six known conspirators that included two espoused Putnam mortgage brokers, two appraisers, and the founder of a front program designed to conceal payment sources and rip off loan proceeds.

The mortgage brokers, Hurricane residents Todd and Deborah Joyce, were sentenced last year to 36 months and 46 months in prison respectively. Appraisers Mark Greenlee and James Thornton, along with Michael Hurd, await sentencing.

From the early 2000s up until 2007, Hurd owned and operated a company called the Gift Program Inc. in Utah, which he marketed as a "seller-funded down payment assistance program" according to a federal plea agreement Hurd signed in November.

Around 2005, Hurd became involved with Morris, who prosecutors say headed a real estate investment club that focused on identifying potential opportunities for quick profits in speculative real estate investments across the country.

Hurd connected Morris to Deborah Joyce, who owned real estate development company Prime Developers.

Joyce directed Greenlee and Thornton to produce inflated appraisals for several homes in the Stonegate subdivision. She then presented the appraisals to Morris, who in turn offered the prices to his club's investors, who apparently thought they were getting a deal.

Authorities say Hurd then used the program as a front to conceal the transfer of funds from "flipped" properties that sellers had sent out to the unwitting investors. Hurd also used the program to rip off a portion of proceeds from lenders who approved the investors' loans.

In one instance, Joyce bought a property on 45 Spruce Ridge for $395,000 and conscripted Greenlee to secure an inflated appraisal that nearly doubled the house's value. Almost simultaneously, Morris pushed the house to one of his investors, promising that it would sell for an even higher price.

The investor bought the house for $615,000, and Hurd managed to conceal from the investor and the lenders that Joyce had purchased the house for much less. After trying for nearly two years to sell the property, the investor eventually defaulted, according to the plea agreement.

The house sold out on foreclosure for $305,000, the plea agreement states.

Federal agents confronted Morris last May, and told him he was the target of an investigation into the Stonegate flipping scheme.

Morris denied that he had a position of power within 100X, the name of the Utah investor group.

"At 100X meetings, Morris would speak to the other investors about the type of investments he was making during that time," according to an affidavit signed by IRS Special Agent Karen J. Atkinson. "Morris would not say that he had a role in 100X, but that he was an information coordinator."

Morris told the agents that "everyone always assumed" that he owned the investment group, but ownership actually belonged to a man named Chad Faber, according to the affidavit.

When asked about the West Virginia properties, Morris told the agents he did not know the properties the Joyces had marketed to the club already had houses built on them, the affidavit states. He also told the agents that he did not know his role in the Stonegate property transactions.

Agents showed Morris a PowerPoint slide of all the money transfers related to the property at 45 Spruce Ridge, including a $20,000 transfer that went directly into one of his accounts.

"At that time, Morris stated that he wished to speak with an attorney before answering any more questions," according to the affidavit. "He also requested that his statements be accurately reflected and that all of his answers should be prefaced with 'maybe', 'don't recall', 'think' and 'not sure'."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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