'Heartless' U.S. mortgage modification scheme leads to 16-year prison term

September 15, 2016 4:16 PM EDT

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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A California man was sentenced on Thursday to 16 years in prison for his role in what prosecutors said was the largest mortgage modification scheme ever prosecuted, involving more than 30,000 homeowners defrauded out of $31 million.

Dionysius Fiumano, a former sales manager at Irvine, California-based Vortex Financial Management Inc, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan, who said the harm to victims had been "enormous financially and emotionally."

"This was a callous scheme and really a heartless one," Keenan said.

Fiumano, who was also ordered to pay nearly $20 million in restitution, was one of five people charged in connection with the scheme, and the only one to go to trial. A federal jury found him guilty in May on conspiracy and wire fraud charges.

In court, Fiumano, 45, blamed his employers, saying they were "deceptive from the outset," but said he nonetheless felt shame for any role he had in harming homeowners.

"I apologize to anyone and everyone who was hurt," he said.

Prosecutors said Fiumano was the general manager of sales at Vortex, also known as the Professional Marketing Group, a company that offered to help struggling homeowners persuade their lenders to agree to modify the terms of their mortgages.

While at the company from 2011 to 2014, Fiumano oversaw a staff of 60 salespeople and perpetrated a scheme to defraud homeowners who were seeking to take advantage of government mortgage relief programs, prosecutors said.

He instructed his salespeople to lie to consumers nationwide about what the firm would do for them in order to get homeowners to pay thousands of dollars each in fees in exchange for minimal or no mortgage modification services, prosecutors said.

The scheme, which resulted in over 30,000 consumers paying the firm $31 million, began coming undone in 2013 when the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program began investigating. The firm closed in 2014.

Fiumano was arrested in August 2014 along with two other individuals, in what prosecutors have said is the largest mortgage modification scheme ever to result in criminal charges.

Beyond Fiumano, four individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with the case, including the company's co-owners, Ped Abghari and Johnny Linderman. They have yet to be sentenced.

The case is U.S. v. Abghari et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00518.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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