Union man sentenced to 10 years for fraud scheme

UNION, NJ — A Union man has been sentenced to 10 years in state prison after his conviction for being the ringleader of an identity theft and mortgage fraud ring that stole nearly $1 million from various lending institutions, the state attorney general’s office announced Aug. 11.

Artis Hunter, 50, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Benjamin S. Bucca Jr. in Middlesex County, including 40 months of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty May 8 to first-degree money laundering.

Two co-defendants also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Laquan Jones, 43, of Newark, admitted to second-degree money laundering on July 21,

and faces a recommended sentence on Sept. 15 of five years. Melissa Phillip, 42, of West Orange, pleaded guilty on April 28, and faces a recommended sentence on Nov. 13 of 364 days in the county jail as

a condition of probation.

“These defendants used multiple stolen and fictitious identities to stage loan closings that were entirely illusory, with the exception of the very real money they stole from lenders, totaling nearly $1 million,” Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said in the press release.

State and federal authorities combined to investigate the scheme.

“The defendants’ actions in this case were calculated and brazen,” Debra Parker, the acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Newark, said. “They exploited the mortgage lending process and stole people’s identities to line their pockets.”

Hunter, Jones and Phillip conspired with several others who were not identified to use stolen identities for the purpose of pilfer more than $930,000 through at least eight fraudulent loan transactions, including four mortgages, three home equity lines of credit and one car loan, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

They used stolen or fictitious names to pose as borrowers and numerous other people and businesses connected to the transactions and created all the distinctive characteristics of a legitimate residential loan to fill all of the required roles: seller, lawyer, settlement agent, title agent, homeowner’s insurance company, notary and others.

They also created multiple false documents, closing, wire transfer and titles signed by either people who didn’t exist or had no knowledge of them.

The prosecutor stated that the fraud involved two properties in Elizabeth and one in Plainfield as well as Edison, and Woodbridge in Middlesex County and Franklin Township and Franklin Park in Somerset County.