Courtesy of Alameda County Sheriff's Department
Jim McConville, from a booking photo from the Santa Rita Jail in 1998
James McConville, the man at the center of our 2009 investigation into a massive real estate scam in San Diego County, is expected to appear in court next week and plead guilty to federal fraud charges. The plea comes three years after he orchestrated the purchase of scores of North County condos and nearly immediately let them fall into foreclosure, pocketing close to $13 million in the meantime.
The Department of Justice’s Victim Notification System sent a notice of the expected guilty plea this month. Andy Narraway, an investor who claimed he lost his life savings to McConville, forwarded us the notice.
Federal prosecutors charged McConville with money laundering and wire fraud last May. The charges related to a scheme that stretched across California, involving hundreds of condos bought with the help of so-called straw buyers who rented the man their identities so he could get more mortgages from banks.
In the case of the more than 80 condos we looked at in Escondido and San Marcos, McConville’s team obtained mortgages for far more than the units would have sold for otherwise and pocketed more than $100,000 per condo under the guise of “marketing fees” before letting them fall into foreclosure.
The feds found the fugitive McConville last June hiding in Bakersfield with three large rolls of cash in his pockets.
Several other defendants in the scheme have pleaded guilty, including the escrow officer who admitted she created two versions of the official transaction papers, one the banks would see that didn’t show McConville’s take, and one that he and the sellers saw.
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By last March, we estimated the federal government’s mortgage companies, which had purchased these shaky loans, had already lost upwards of $7.8 million. McConville’s operation had been going for several years by the time he bought the San Diego County units, but these deals were especially egregious because they slipped through the cracks in 2008, when banks and governments had decried the excesses of the housing boom and vowed to strengthen their oversight.
The straw buyers’ credit scores were ruined when McConville stopped paying the mortgages on the units in their name, and the ones involved in the San Diego deal said they were never paid the $10,000 per unit he promised them in exchange for their signatures.
McConville is expected to appear July 20, about 1:30 p.m. in Oakland to enter his guilty plea.
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