This time three years ago, we were working on an investigation into why more than 80 condos in North San Diego County fit an odd pattern of extravagantly high purchase prices and near-immediate foreclosure.

Today, the man at the center of what Will Carless and I uncovered in our “A Staggering Swindle” investigation pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Jim McConville went up and down the state for a few years last decade, convincing dozens of people to rent him their identities. He used their credit scores to dupe banks into granting mortgages to those individuals, often buying a handful of condos (whose prices had been artificially inflated) at once in one person’s name. The purchase prices we found in North County at apartment-turned-condo complexes in Escondido and San Marcos were way higher than what the market should’ve warranted in the middle of 2008.

McConville then kept the difference between what he’d agreed to buy the condo for and the loan the bank approved. His company captured more than $120,000 out of each of the transactions he did here. In just three complexes in San Diego County, McConville pulled out more than $12.5 million, according to developer records we analyzed. Because now-government-controlled mortgage banks Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bought the loans after lenders made them, taxpayers are on the hook for a big chunk of the losses accrued when the condos went into foreclosure.

If you’re just catching up on the story, here’s a link to our initial investigation and the pieces we’ve reported since then.

As my colleague Keegan Kyle recently reported, foreclosure continues to plague neighborhoods in San Diego. In the boom and bust years, schemes like this have had a huge impact on surrounding property values. That’s why we did the investigation to begin with — to expose an egregious example of mortgage fraud in San Diego’s housing market.

Several other defendants have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges. McConville is scheduled to be sentenced on April 18 in the Bay Area.

I’m Kelly Bennett, VOSD reporter and arts editor. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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