MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A judge handed down a 12-year federal prison sentence to a Wisconsin man found guilty of defrauded more than 70 Wisconsin homeowners out of $390,000, and in some cases, their own homes.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Aston Wood, 56 of New Richmond, Wis., pleaded guilty to wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud on Jan. 6, 2020.
Hiding under fraudulent company like ASC Financial, LLC and Maywood Capital II, LLC, Wood solicited people facing foreclosure, and tried to convinced them that he could help them stay in their homes by obtaining loan refinancing.
The DOJ says Wood offered to do this by making mortgage payments towards a new loan as part of a "trial period," while he worked out the details of the loan with the mortgage lenders.
Wood told victims to make the mortgage payments to the businesses he controlled, and said he would pass those payments on to the victims' mortgage lenders, the DOJ says.
According to the DOJ, Wood collected these payments for months. But instead of sending the payments to lenders, he instead spent the money on his own travel and living expenses.
Meanwhile, Wood also directed victims to file their bankruptcies to the Western District of Wisconsin. That's where U.S. Trustee’s Office became suspicious and launched an investigation into Wood, starting in November of 2016.
In October of 2017, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine J. Furay issued an injunction barring Wood from soliciting, offering to perform or performing services relating to mortgage foreclosure and debt relief.
At Wood's sentencing, Judge James D. Peterson called the defendant a "professional conman," saying that this was “a particularly heartless crime,” and told the defendant that his crime “stands apart from anything I’ve come across in my six years on the bench.”
The DOJ offers tips to help residents avoid becoming victims to such schemes (copied from the DOJ's website):
• Beware of anyone seeking to charge you in advance for mortgage modification services. In most cases, charging fees in advance of a mortgage modification is illegal.
• Only your mortgage company has the discretion to grant a loan modification. Therefore, no third party can guarantee or pre-approve your mortgage modification application.
• Beware of individuals and companies claiming that your payments should be sent to an alternate contact or address that is different from the information in your mortgage statement.
• Beware of individuals or companies that offer money-back guarantees or insist on upfront fees and can only accept payment by cash, cashier's check, or wire transfer.
• Beware of private individuals claiming to be affiliated with government-backed refinancing programs.