Judge Rejects Mortgage Fraud Guilty Plea

A federal judge who refused to accept a plea deal presented by the prosecution made it official when the hearing which was previously held resumed on February 5. He cited that the plea agreement offered by the U.S. Attorney's Office was the most "lenient plea agreement." He previously said that he had concerns with the prosecution "dismissing the 30-year component" in the Jim Fidel Sotolongo Mortgage Fraud Ring case. Sotolongo, 48, was originally charged with thirteen counts consisting of mortgage fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to federally insured financial institutions.

U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr. had a hard time understanding why the government would offer such a minimal deal. The federal prosecutors that handled the case decided not to pursue multiple counts that Sotolongo faced, and assented to a charge that would deal him a maximum prison term of five years. The judge then told Sotolongo's attorney as well as the prosecutor that he would review the background of the case and make an assessment whether he would accept the guilty plea or not. Turning toward Sotolongo's attorney, he said "I'll be in touch with you."

Before adjourning for the day at the initial hearing, Judge Dalton asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Wilson why Sotolongo's coconspirator Christopher Mencis, 52 was given a plea deal for a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States with a possible penalty of thirty years while Sotolongo was offered a much softer arrangement for what has been labelled by the FBI as a multimillion dollar mortgage fraud ring which operated out of in Volusia County, FL.

Mencis originally pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in late April and the prosecutor explained to judge Dalton that his client had been fully cooperating with the government and agreed to continue to do so after changing his plea. Mencis was originally charged with one count of making false statements and one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.  The prosecution agreed to drop the conspiracy charge, but his single count guilty plea was agreed to by the prosecution based on his assistance since last May, and his pledge to continue to fully cooperate. He was then convicted of the one count during the original hearing. Sotolongo also originally pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in April.  

According to the original complaint, Sotolongo's fraud ring swindled lending institutions by falsifying loan applications over the course of a seven year period which procured more than fifty-million dollars for the four main collaborators and three co-conspirators. But apparently the location where that money went remains a mystery.

The prosecutor also stated that she was pressing forward with the single charge where she believed Sotolongo would concede participation in each of the seventy properties included in the indictment, instead of moving forward with charges that would solidify an extended prison term.

After hearing the explanation, the judge stated that he was perplexed as to why Mencis had in essence been found guilty of the same charge that Sotolongo is accused of, but each of the men were facing particularly different prison sentences, one with a thirty-year maximum, the other capped at five years, even though the FBI has labelled Sotolongo as the "organizer" of the ring.

Once the judge completed his commentary, Sotolongo's attorney said that the prosecutor had left out other elements in her justification of the deal.

The judge then called for a 10-minute recess to give the prosecution and defense time for further discussion among themselves.

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