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Judge Rejects Mortgage Fraud Guilty Plea 2

Once the hearing again began, Sotolongo's lawyer specified that his client is not the only defendant "targeted" in the investigation, explaining that two other co-conspirators would also be pleading guilty in the "near future". Those two additional suspects are Stephen Matson and Abdul Rifai who the FBI had alleged were all partners in the multi-million dollar ring along with his client. An additional "partner", Sidney Coton, 53, had already accepted a plea deal with a five year possible penalty last November and presently awaits sentencing.

After hearing the defense attorney's monologue, the judge turned to the prosecutor and asked: "Is he [Sotolongo] going to be a witness for the government?"
When AUSA Wilson answered a single word answer of "No" in a barely audible voice it triggered the apparently annoyed judge to echo that he would not accept the guilty plea; concluding his decision by saying "I'm not comfortable with it this morning."

Up until now, Sotolongo has apparently lived a charmed life regarding his criminal activities. More than ten years ago he avoided what could have been a significant term in federal prison by cooperating with federal narcotics agents. At the time he was convicted of attempting to possess and distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and money laundering which could have netted him a sentence of approximately thirty years in prison. But because he became a witness for the prosecution and assisted the DEA he escaped with only a probationary sentence for a period of five years.

In 2006, he again was under scrutiny by the DEA who he cooperated with in the earlier case. He became a person of interest for his possible part of a criminal enterprise that cultivated marijuana in numerous South Florida counties. He was never convicted of any crime in that particular case.

Going back further in time, in the year 2000, he was also involved in a scheme to defraud a Lee County, Florida financial institution. He pleaded no contest to that charge and was given a two-year probationary sentence for his plea.

Other players in the scheme who have pleaded not guilty are Stephanie Musselwhite, a title agent and Ramara Garrett, who lives with Sotolongo and is also the mother of one of his children. She previously worked as a real estate broker. Their trial is scheduled for later this month before the same judge.

After the hearing, Sotolongo's attorney said, "We certainly respect the judge's decision." Judge Dalton then ordered Jim Sotolongo to return to court next week where it is expected his plea will be withdrawn. If the government can't come up with a plea arrangement that will be recognized by the judge his trial will be set for mid-March of this year.

Being charged with mortgage fraud, bank fraud or making false statements to a federally insured financial institution or any federal charges are serious allegations. It is essential to understand that a federal prosecutor in charge of these types of cases will do everything possible under the law to obtain a conviction. If you, a friend or family member finds that an arrest is imminent or an Indictment has already come down, it is imperative to retain a qualified, experienced criminal trial attorney who has familiarity with federal cases and can effectively contest the government's case, working toward a positive outcome while protecting your rights.

In the tri-county area of South Florida (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach), Mr. Cohen's office can provide you with the skilled representation that is indispensable in matters such as these. Call Mr. Cohen at 954.928.0059 in Dade & Broward County or 561.366.8200 in the Palm Beaches.