Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced unprecedented charges against individuals involved in an alleged mortgage fraud ring involving 220 properties in San Diego County, with total purchase prices topping $100 million.
The 24 defendants were all charged with participating in a “corrupt enterprise” under a federal law created by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which allows for charging multiple defendants with extended penalties for their participation in an ongoing crime ring.
This was the first known time in the country that defendants in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme have been charged in a RICO conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt said today. This was the largest mortgage fraud uncovered to date in San Diego, Hewitt said.
The RICO Act was passed in 1970 in efforts to eradicate organized crime. It was originally intended to focus on La Cosa Nostra, but its application here is fitting, said local FBI Special Agent in Charge, Keith Slotter.
“To me it ups the ante,” Slotter said. “It shows how seriously we take the crime. … It’s the most serious charge you could go with.”
The indictment describes a network of individuals allegedly masterminded by defendant Darnell Bell, or D-Bell. Bell is a documented member of the Lincoln Park street gang and had already been serving time for about a year for narcotics charges when he was arraigned on the racketeering charges in federal court this morning, Hewitt said.