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Federal court sentences 3 South Carolinians for bank fraud

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Three South Carolinians have been sentenced by a federal judge after pleading guilty to bank fraud charges in schemes the government says defrauded federal programs intended to aid homeowners at risk of foreclosure and mortgage loan default.

Marvette Thompson Easterling, 54, of Gaffney; Keylon Wright, 40, of Simpsonville; and Joshua David Armato, 37, of Georgia recently admitted that they knowingly defrauded the Troubled Asset Relief Program program, according to a news release. U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks ordered each defendant to a sentence of time served followed by five years of supervised release and the repayment of the stolen funds for the felony charges.

The cases were investigated by Special Inspector General for TARP, an independent law enforcement agency used to investigate allegations of fraud, waste and abuse related to the TARP bailout. Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Marosek prosecuted the cases.

“With today’s sentencing, SIGTARP and the United States Attorney’s Office have brought justice for defendants who defraud and steal from the Hardest Hit Fund, a federal program that helps unemployed homeowners stay in their home,” Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero said in the release.  “Easterling, Wright, and Armato separately lied to get thousands of federal dollars for mortgage assistance, concealing that they did not live in the house and concealing rental income. Now they are convicted of fraud and must repay the stolen funds.”

Evidence presented in court was intended to demonstrate that through false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises, Easterling obtained funds from SC Housing, a federally funded mortgage payment assistance program that provides eligible homeowners with temporary mortgage assistance so that they could avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.  Easterling concealed and failed to notify SC Housing of monthly rental income she received for the property and that she as the owner did not live at the property in order to receive and use federal funds she was ineligible to receive, according to the news release.

Prosecutors also presented evidence they said showed that Wright executed a similar scheme for a property in Mauldin, Armato for a property in Simpsonville.  Wright and Armato concealed and failed to notify SC Housing that they did not live on the properties and rented them to unrelated third parties in order to receive and use the federal funding, according to the release.

“Stealing from the federal government, particularly from programs that help the least fortunate in America, will not be tolerated,” Acting U.S. Attorney M. Rhett DeHart for the District of South Carolina, based in Columbia, said in a statement Friday.  “Our office appreciates the investigative work of the Special Inspector General for TARP and will continue to work with SIGTARP to protect American tax dollars.”

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.

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