by Matthew Cox
Mark and Greta entered Christian’s office. Christian looked up and said, “How did everything go?”
Greta dropped into a chair and slammed her purse on the floor.
“Well they want me to testify or something like that against you and the five Italians.”
Christian’s mouth dropped open. A numbing heat poured over his entire body.
“Are you kidding?” he replied.
“No. I’m not. They think you and I organized the entire scam.”
“Holy shit.” Christian exclaimed while another wave of numbing heat come over him. Sweat began to form on Christian’s forehead.
“I told them I wouldn’t say anything to involve you, but I would testify against the five Italians. They’re thinking about the offer right now.”
Mark sat on the couch and sat his briefcase on the floor next to the coffee table. Mark folded his hands in a somber pose.
“Christian, they have quite a bit of evidence on Greta. There’s a good possibility she will spend quite a few years in prison. If they agree she only has to testify against these Italian investors and not testify against you, she’ll receive a plea bargain agreement in a few weeks, maybe a month. She’ll have to go in front of a judge and plead guilty. He’ll probably give her a month or so to take care of any personal business before starting her sentence.”
Christian asked, “Do you think they’ll accept the deal?” Mark rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands and said, “It’s possible Christian, but they gave me the impression they would be looking into you whether Greta helped them or not.”
“Why are they focusing on me?” Christian asked.
“Well, apparently these Italian investors are pointing at you and Greta as being the ringleaders of the entire scam. It is possible they won’t investigate you—the government has very little without Greta’s cooperation. So relax for now. Greta, I’ll talk to you next week after I speak to agent Stortz. Take a deep breath and stop worrying. Nothing is going to happen for several weeks, possibly months.”
Mark gave her a disarming smile and patted her on the shoulder as he left the room. Mark glanced at Christian as he closed the door.
Christian caught something in Mark’s eyes. A sympathy of sorts. Mark said a quiet prayer for Greta and Christian as the door closed.
RICK BESIGLIO sat in the lobby of his attorney’s office, Saul Goldberg. He had been waiting for 10 minutes and his patience was running out. At $300 an hour, this shyster should be coming to his office and waiting in his lobby. Besiglio thought the term shyster was never more appropriate than when used to describe Saul Goldberg. He was possibly the most unethical, unscrupulous lawyer to still be practicing law in the Tampa Bay area. His specialty was real estate and all related fields pertaining to real estate, including real estate zoning, contracts, evictions and real estate related fraud to a degree. He had enjoyed all the perks of a real-estate attorney, such as obtaining property, prior to his client’s bids, paying off tax appraisers for the privilege of remaining taxed on land verses newly constructed subdivisions. He was considered a palm greaser to the local inspectors and city council members. Goldberg could play 18 holes of golf with virtually any real estate related public official, mention his most recent client problem and walk away with a price. He dealt in hand shakes and cash, therefore any and all inquiries of corruption were circumstantial at best.
At 52 years old, Saul Goldberg was a stout 5 ft 5 in., with thin, greasy, gray hair. His suit was in need of dry cleaning, but his shoes had recently been buffed.
The office was furnished in quality antiques with an influence on the Queen Anne period. Dark wood and elaborate baroque oil paintings adorned the walls.
“Rick Besiglio, how the hell are you? Come on in here.” Goldberg said.
Besiglio rocked his way to his feet and forced his mighty frame through the door jam. Goldberg smiled and thought that he may have to grease the door frame for their next meeting if Besiglio gained any more weight.
Saul Goldberg met Richard Besiglio in New York 11 years earlier. Besiglio had been accused of fraud by the New York State Real Estate Commission and Saul Goldberg represented him in an informal hearing, which resulted in Besigilo losing his licence. The loss of Besiglio’s licence wasn’t Goldberg fault, Besiglio hadn’t given him much to work with. Richard Besiglio had set up a bank account with a DBA in his Real Estate Employer’s name. He then began cashing his own commission checks, thereby cutting his employer out of his percentage. The Real Estate Commission had copies of canceled checks and affidavits signed by several buyers and sellers. It wasn’t pretty. Besiglio had two choices, he could surrender his licence or the Real Estate Commission could ask the state attorney to investigate the allegations. At Goldberg’s insistence, Besiglio begrudgingly surrendered his licence. Four years later, when Besiglio was indicted for bank fraud, Goldberg and his wife had moved to Tampa, Florida, to escape the harsh New York weather. Goldberg most likely wouldn’t have done much better in the Besigilio bank fraud case. He was aware that one of Besiglio’s co-conspirators was singing like a canary. Besides, Goldberg wasn’t a federal criminal lawyer, his focus was on real estate law.
“Damn Rick, you look good. How have things been?” Goldberg asked.
Besiglio forced himself into a chair facing Goldberg’s desk.
“Listen, at your prices I think we should get down to business.” Goldberg laughed at this and sat back in his chair.
“What’s on your mind, Rick?”
Besiglio’s thick gruff voice replied, “I need you to inquire into the FBI’s investigation of Greta Beck and a few of my associates. You know, put the word out at the courthouse that you’re interested in what type of deal they’re offering her. I need to know if it includes me.”
Goldberg pulled on his beard letting the hair slip between his fingers.
“I can ask around, but I’m not sure how in-depth the information will be. What’s this all about anyway?”
Besiglio slowly told the story in detail, including all the covering up and manipulating involved. He explained the inflated appraisals and the pagers. He even explained the fake bank account and the wires, but only because Saul was enjoying the story so much. Saul Goldberg laughed and laughed until his laughter was interrupted by a hacking cough, which turned his face beat red. It continued until Besiglio thought he might have to act concerned and he just didn’t have it in him.
Goldberg asked, “What about the title company employees, did they ever see you?”
“No, I never went to a closing, except on my own house.”
Goldberg laughed and laughed. He leaned back in his chair so far it appeared he would tumble over.
“What about the borrowers, have they mentioned your name to the FBI?”
“No, they told the FBI the brokers set up the loans and provided the income information.”
Goldberg loved it. Nothing warmed his heart like a good scam. He admitted that the plan was perfect and he didn’t understand how the FBI had gotten involved. Regardless of their involvement, he saw no clear danger of indictment for Besiglio. Goldberg promised to ask around and he’d call as soon as he had something.
THE BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING LOBBY was bustling with
activity. Christian waited for an elevator to arrive. He was pensive about the FBI and knew the office gossip had started, but he had no idea of the day he would endure. The elevator doors opened and Claudia Lafuenta stood with a box of personal property in her hands and tears in her eyes. When she realized Christian was standing in front of her, she almost let go of the box.
“Christian!” she yelped out “I, um...”
Christian was crushed. He felt betrayed. He had trained this girl for months. She had left a job making $28,000 a year to come work for him. Christian had made it his personal mission to help her adjust to the new job and be a productive worker. She had made $31,000 in the last six months and now she was fleeing at the first sign of trouble. The disappointment was written across his face. Tears streamed down Claudia’s cheeks and she simply couldn’t speak. The elevator doors began to beep and the silence was broken.
Christian stopped her with, “Just go, Claudia.”
She sniffled out: “But, I want to explain.”
“Claudia, don’t worry about it, I understand.’
Christian entered the elevator with several other men and elevator doors closed.
Christian stumbled into his office only to be shocked by the presence of two financial examiners from the Department of Banking and Finance standing in the lobby of Associates Financial Services.
“Mr. Locke? My name is Henry Morrison from the Department of Banking and Finance and this is Jack Baralt.”
Henry Morrison stepped forward with his hand extended. They shook hands and Christian said, “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“Well we’re here to conduct an audit of your files and compliance documents.”
“I was just audited a few months ago.” Christian offered.
“Yes we understand that Mr. Locke, and now you are being audited again.”
This was said with an authoritative tone and Christian was aware the Department had the right to audit Brokerage businesses with out warning or explanations.
“Well, if you want to waste your time go ahead and audit the files.” Christian shrugged.
“Where are the closed files kept?” Morrison asked.
Christian pointed to the file room located near the conference room and walked to the door and opened it for the two examiners.
“There you go, Mr. Morrison. You can use the conference room, if necessary.”
Christian turned around and walked to his office. Stacy walked in behind him and said, “Christian, Claudia quit this morning.”
“I know, I saw her in the lobby,” he replied.
Stacy looked at the ground, feeling bad for her boss. He was a great guy and she had never known him to be cross with anyone. Christian was one of the few people she had ever known to want the best for everyone. Some employers were almost upset when they had to write a large commission check to a broker, but Christian loved it. It made him happy to think the brokers were working hard and it was paying off for them. She exited the room with her head hung low.
Several hours later Mr. Baralt walked to Christian’s office door and asked him to come to the conference room. Christian entered the conference room and sat at the large table stacked with files.
“Mr. Locke, we’ve been reviewing the broker agreements in several of your office files and there seems to be a problem with your mortgage broker agreements.”
“Oh yeah. What’s the problem?” Christian asked.
“Well, apparently your office has a history of disclosing the
fee and then also charging a processing fee of $400. That fee needs to be disclosed on the broker agreement also, yet your company never seems to disclose it.”
This was ridiculous. Christian had never heard that and he had been audited three times. Capital Funding never disclosed the processing fee on the broker agreement nor did All Nations Mortgage.
“I’ve never heard of that before, Mr. Morrison,” Christian admitted.
Christian shook his head at both Morrison and Baralt, glancing at both men.
Morrison said, “Well that’s a finable violation under statute 494.007 of the Florida Statues governing brokerages. But we have another more serious violation to discuss.”
“Okay.” Christian’s response was almost chipper, bordering on
lively. The two auditors were hoping for a more concerned reaction, but at this point, Christian was numb. Any bad news these two could dump on him would simply be a drop in the bucket compared to the federal charges he was most likely facing.
“We have found several files with closing statements that have checks being issued for repairs.”
Christian shifted in his chair slightly. “Oh really. Hum, now why is a problem?”
Christian knew perfectly well why it was a problem, but it seemed only fair to screw with the auditor by acting surprised. The two men looked at one another despairingly.
Morrison then said, “Well, we’ve been informed by the FBI that several of your personal files contain repair credits similar to these and we were asked to investigate whether any of the other brokers in your business were using the same tactics to hide borrower down payments.
And, apparently they are.”
Christian was at a loss for diplomacy and only managed to come up with, “What’s going on? Are you going to shut Associates Financial Services down or what?”
Both the examiners were taken aback by the abrasiveness of the question and Baralt said, “Well, we’re curious about your response to this. What do you have to say?”
“Well, I’m unaware of anything like that, and I’d like to see proof before responding. Now are you planing on shutting Associates down or just fining us?”
“Well for right now are just going to fine the company $10,000 for the broker agreements violation and we’ll have a meeting with the head of our Department later next week to determine the Department of Banking and Finance’s official action.”
Christian sighed and said, “Well, when will I hear something?”
Baralt respond, “Probably in a few weeks. The fine will need to be payed within ten days.”
“Okay, I’ll go get my check book.”
He exited the conference room and began walking to his office, when Christian noticed Chris Dorn’s desk was surprisingly clean and clutter free, which was quite uncommon. He entered Chris’s office and opened several of the drawers. Empty. All were empty. Christian leaned over the desk and hit the intercom.
“Stacy, where is Chris Dorn?”
Stacy’s voice came back over the intercom, “He left with his stuff when he saw you talking with the examiners. He said something
about not wanting to be around when the FBI or the Department of Banking and Finance raids the office.” She paused and said, “Sorry Christian, I tried to change his mind, but he was pretty worried.”
“It’s okay Stacy.”
Christian reentered the conference room several minutes later with a check for $10,000, payable to the Department of Bank and Finance.
Baralt took the check and the two men smugly exited the office.
Hours later Kelly’s voice rang out over the intercom.
“Christian, call on line one.” Christian quickly walked to the nearest phone.
“This is Christian, who’s calling?”
“Hey Christian this is Tom, at Manufacturers’ Bank.” Christian recognized the voice immediately.
“Hey Tom, what’s up?”
“Well we just got a subpoena for your bank records and I just wanted you to know.” Christian thanked him and hung up. A few hours later Christian received another call.
“This is Christian.”
“Christian, this is Joe from Fremont Title Company. I’m calling to let you know we received several subpoenas for the files on your personal properties.”
Christian took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, I know all about it, Joe. It’s just a routine investigation.”
Joe sounded skeptical during his response.
“Routine huh? I’ve been here 20 years and every routine investigation I’ve seen has ended up with someone in prison.”
Christian explained his appreciation for the concern and assured Joe everything was under control. Christian sat on his couch. The door to his office had been opened during the brief phone conversation with Joe. He slowly slid across the leather coach towards the door. Christian leaned over to close the door and realized that Greta was leaning on the door frame.
“Is everything okay, Christian?” she said.
Greta had a sorrowful look about her. This was a result of her problems with the FBI. She had dragged Christian into the abyss. They both knew after a few phone calls the FBI would have Christian in their grasp. The walls were closing in on both of them and there was no escape. Christian smiled at her. She was puzzled by the gesture.
Christian said, ‘It’ll be nice to know someone else in the big house. You know we can’t keep each other company and stuff.”
He started to laugh.
“I’m glad you think this is funny, Christian.”
Christian continued to laugh and said, “I think it’s the situation at hand and I’m not going to let it ruin my life for the moment.”
Greta smiled at him. He could always do that. He could always focus on the positive. Christian looked at Greta and slid down the couch on his back and said, “With the exception of life and death situations, nothing is as bad as it first seems.”
Christian slid his hands underneath his head and placed his feet at the end of the couch. Greta smiled and closed the door.
AMY RANG THE DOOR BELL at Christian’s house that night. She had been concerned about him all day. He hadn’t called and her phone calls to the office had not been returned. The door opened just a few inches and Christian peered out.
“Hi, Amy.” Christian said.
She instantly knew something was wrong.
“Baby, are you okay? What’s wrong?” Amy asked.
Christian opened the door and she entered. He flopped down on the couch and said “I’m fucked and how are you?”
“Okay, what’s wrong? Sit up and talk to me.”
She was authoritative in her response and Christian owed her an explanation.
“The FBI is investigating one of the brokers in my office and they’ve stumbled onto me somehow.”
Amy relaxed and said, “So, you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Christian looked into her eyes and then slowly looked away. She got the message immediately and began to worry.
“Oh, no, Christian, no. What did you do?” she asked.
“Give me a break, Amy, you didn’t think I really acquired everything I have in under two years without cutting some corners, did you?”
She just shook her head and stared at the ground.
“What did you do?” she asked again.
“I got a little to creative with some of my own personal loan applications. And, well, the FBI has subpoenaed the lender files, title company files, bank accounts and God only knows what else. They will find out that I have several million in fraudulent mortgage loans.”
“Could you go to jail?”
Christian began to laugh and said, “Yeah, I can go to jail. I’m probably looking at around ten to twenty years.”
‘What? No! No! That’s not right!” she was shaking her head at this.
“No, you have to get out of this. You have to fix this,” she pleaded.
Amy felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. She was having a hard time breathing.
“No! Christian, this is a joke, right? You’re just screwing with me, right?”
She was praying he was playing a sick joke on her, but the truth was in his eyes. Tears streamed down her face. “No.”
Christian embraced her, but when she began to strike him in the chest, he quickly backed up. She yelled at the top of her lungs, “You stupid idiot, why would you do something so stupid?”
Christian said in a low monitored voice, “Because at the time I had nothing to lose.”
She hugged him and said, “This is the first time I’ve been really happy in the past three years and now this.”
Christian started to laugh “Well, I’m sorry Amy. If I’d known It was going to ruin your good time, I never would have committed bank fraud.”
She started to laugh and said, “You know what I mean. I’m sorry.”
Christian continued to laugh and said, “It’s all about you Amy. We’re all just pawns in your world, aren’t we?”
“Stop it, Christian.”
She squeezed him tightly, and wondered how long they had left together.
Later that night around 3:00 am, she woke in Christian’s bed. Christian was staring at the clock and running his hand through her hair when she said, “Couldn’t you run?”
He glanced at the ceiling and said, “Where would I go? And with whom? I won’t have anything left by the time this is over.”
Amy said, “I would go with you, where ever you wanted. We could go to Mexico, Brazil or Costa Rica. We could start new lives.”
“Amy, it takes money to disappear permanently, millions and I
don’t have millions. By the time this is over, I won’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of,” Christian mumbled softly.
Amy kissed his chest and said, “Maybe we should rob a bank.” She gave him a slight giggle and drifted to sleep. Something inside Christian’s mind just snapped.
It’s a common dream of professionals, to run away and start fresh. Everyone has the dream at one point in their life. The pressure of work, financial problems, a bad marriage and general unhappiness forces it on them. Fortunately, most people simply don’t have the means to escape their dreary lives or maybe it just never gets bad enough to do anything about. This wasn’t the case with Christian. Things were certainly about to get bad for him. Christian wasn’t quite sure how, but he knew his only hope of surviving was escape. How much would be enough to start over? Half a million? One million? Two million? Where could he get his hands on that much money? Robbing a bank was out of the question. He would need time and cunning to pull off a bank robbery. And Christian knew he was just about out of both. He wasn’t a violent man—he was a mortgage broker, not a bank robber. He could refinance some of his properties, but even the appraisals were stretched on all his investment properties, he would only be able to pull out around $100,000. It wasn’t enough. Greta’s $75,000 attorney fees had all but wiped out Christian’s business account. The Department of Bank and Finance’s $10,000 fine had left him with next to nothing in his personal account. Damn, he thought, this is impossible. I can’t flee the country with $100,000.
That night Christian had nightmares of John Walsh profiling him on Americas Most Wanted.
Christian could hear Walsh say, “Tonight we’re profiling a crooked mortgage broker from Tampa, Florida. I really want to catch this one, so please pay attention. He defrauded banks and lenders of millions in mortgage loans and then fled the country with $100,000 in cash. He’s been spotted in Columbia, Mexico and Brazil. If you have any information about Christian Locke, please call our toll free number. Remember, you can remain anonymous.”
Christian tossed and turned while the America’s Most Wanted phones lit up and calls poured in from around the world. There was a follow up nightmare where Christian was shown hand cuffed, wearing an orange prison uniform and trying to hide his face from the camera.
Welsh stood in front of the camera and said, “Thanks to your tips we caught this sleazy bastard and tonight, he’s behind bars where he belongs.”
By the time Christian’s nightmares had him trying to out run the police in a high speed chase on an episode of Cops, he awoke in a sweat and determined he watched too much televison when he was a kid. For the first time in his life he started to feel bad for the criminals who were hunted.
GRETA WAS FINDING IT IMPOSSIBLE to climb out of bed before 10:00 a.m. She would run errands and drag herself into the office around 11:00 a.m. She had seen a television program about inmates on death row sleeping 16 to l8 hours a day, but until now she had never really understood the reasoning behind it. She had never been truly depressed until now. It took every bit of energy she could muster to enter the office. Her closings had slipped to half of their original volume. She returned one out of every two calls and her enthusiasm for creativity was completely gone. The other brokers got tired just looking at her. She had lost at least 15 lbs and with the exception of the dark rings under her eyes, she was physically looking pretty good. Greta was flipping through her messages and noticed one from Mark Trask. She dialed the number and he answered the phone. This was a rarity for Mark, but his secretary had stepped out and he couldn’t stand to listen to the phone ring.
“Mark Trask’s office.”
Greta recognized the voice and said, “Mark is that you?”
“Hi, Greta. I guess you got my message.”
“Yep. What’s up?”
“Agent Stortz called and said he and the Assistant US Attorney are okay with the offer. We need to give a deposition in a week and we’ll see the judge a few weeks after that for sentencing.”
Greta breathed a sigh of relief. Eight years, she would be thirty-six years old when she got out. 36 years old, that wasn’t too old. She would still be able to work. She could live with eight years. Without her testimony the FBI had little to nothing on Christian. They were looking into his personal mortgages, but Christian wasn’t worried about the FBI. He told Greta on more than one occasion, “If something happens to me, I’ll deal with it. Hell, I could lose everything I have, go to prison for 10 years, and when I get out it will take me even less time to be in the same position I’m in right now.”
Greta smiled at this, Christian certainly wasn’t short on confidence.
“Mark, that’s great! What date do they want to depose me?”
Stacy leaned into Christian’s office. Christian looked up from his desk and said “Yeah, Stacy, what’s going on?”
She gave him a concerned look and said, “The FBI is here with a subpoena for your files.”
She paused for a moment and continued, “Your personal files.”
Christian smiled at Stacy with a worry free grin and said, “Stacy, give them the files. I’m not worried about it, okay?”
She gave Christian a look of utter defeat and said, “Christian,
you must be worried a little.”
“Stacy, I don’t know if there is anything to worry about yet.”
Stacy nodded her head in agreement and closed the door behind her. Christian-leaned back in his chair.
The FBI had subpoenaed the closing documents which would
verify the mortgages existed. They subpoenaed the lenders files which would verify the documentation provided to the underwriters at the different lenders and banks. The FBI had now subpoenaed the loan origins and all the documentation Associated Financial Services originated. Everything in the files pointed to Christian. He couldn’t point his finger and say, “The customer provided that documentation.”
Christian was the customer. The only fraudulent documentation in the files were his 1040 tax returns. And the FBI would only have to get a subpoena for his taxes for the last two years and they would have an airtight case against him. The FBI was closing in on him. It was only a matter of time before they had enough to arrest him. Things were starting to look bad for Christian.
STORTZ AND VIGIL had spread Christian’s files out on two large brown foldout tables. They had four white, dry mount boards with lists of verified documents in black ink and unverified in red ink. As the day progressed the black ink board got more and more full. They had ordered canceled checks for several of the closings to verify the receipt of repair money. Several of the purchases were simultaneous closings and it was unclear whether the lender was aware of the simultaneous transaction. Hours passed and the hope of finding anything on Christian Locke was dissipating quickly. It wasn’t until Vigil walked into the room with a fax from the Internal Revenue Service and said “Kevin, I just got a response from the IRS on Mr. Locke taxes.”
Stortz peered from behind a stack of files and boxes.
“Oh, what’s it say?”
“Well, I sent the IRS the taxes Mr. Locke provided to the lenders to verify his income and the IRS stated they have a discrepancy of $48,592. Mr Locke claimed he made around $92,000 net last year, but he claimed he made $140,000 net to the lenders. They’re going to mail us their findings and start an investigation at their end immediately.”
Stortz said, “This guy is going to have his whole life torn apart by the end of this thing. Shit, going to prison will be a nice getaway for him.”
Stortz held up the faxed 1040’s from the IRS and the fraudulent 1040’s. His eyes glanced back and forth between the two documents. After a few seconds he said, “Christ, they’re perfect.”
Stortz had actually begun to admire Christian. His files weren’t a complete contrast to his real life. They were subtle lies, his income was higher than reported. Christian’s down payments were brought to the closings, but were taken out of the closing statement in plain sight of the lender. The lenders were just unaware of what was transpiring on the closing -statement. Christian would bring his down payment and have the title company reissue it in the form of a-check for repairs. On his applications Christian listed himself as a business owner/investor. All the addresses, phone numbers and mortgages were correct. To the untrained eye it was impossible to notice any fraud. But Kevin Stortz was trained to find fraud and noted the subtle differences by the end of the day. Stortz and Vigil had determined Christian Locke had acquired $2.7 million in real-estate through the use of fraudulent documentation without putting down one penny. He owned 72 rental units and according to their phone conversations, the two agents had determined that the leases Mr. Locke had provided the lenders were real. The majority of the tenants paid in cash. According to the leases, $25,420 a month was collected in rent, but according to the bank records, only around $19,000 was deposited into Mr. Locke’s account. This money was used to pay mortgages, insurance and taxes, all tax-deductible. Over $6,000 in cash was disappearing every month. This was a perfect scheme because Mr. Locke could always say that money doesn’t exist. He could claim some of the units were vacant, some tenants didn’t pay, and since the IRS doesn’t get copies of leases, he could also say they were leasing for considerably less money. It was a common but clever scam, Stortz thought. It was also about 10 years in prison for tax evasion.
The FBI now had Christian Locke on conspiracy to defraud a financial institution, tax evasion, wire fraud and 12 counts of bank fraud. This was precisely what Vigil was writing in his report when Stortz said, “I think we’ll pay Mr. Locke a visit tomorrow.”
Vigil gave Stortz a confident raised eyebrow and nodded his head in agreement. Vigil then glanced at the dry mount board closest to him. It was packed with red ink hand writing from top to bottom. Mr. Locke certainly had some questions to answer.
Anita Grote entered the work area and said, “Kevin there’s a Mark Trask and Greta Beck here to see you. They said they’re here for a deposition.”
Stortz looked at Vigil and said, ‘Is the deposition today?”
Vigil looked at his watch and said, “Yeah but, they’re early. It’s not for another 20 minutes.”
Both -the -agents began straightening up their work area. Anita
placed her hand on her hips and began tapping her foot, “What do you want me to tell them?”
Stortz had forgotten she was standing in the doorway waiting. This was something he did quite frequently and it drove Anita and the other staff members crazy. He continually ignored subordinates and this hadn’t made him the most popular agent among the case workers.
“Put them in interview room two, we’ll be there in a minute. Oh Anita, set up the recorder for me.” And as an afterthought, “please.”
Stortz said this with a smile, while sliding several crumpled up notes into a garbage can. He didn’t look at her, he just continued to clean. She replied with a sarcastic “fine” and walked down the hallway to seat Greta and her attorney.
Vigil glanced at Stortz and both the men laughed at her exasperated response.
Stortz offered a., “I said please,” without much conviction.
Anita asked Mark and Greta to have a seat in the conference room while she placed the recorder and several yellow legal pads on the table. Greta sat and Mark asked for some coffee. Anita thought about telling him she wasn’t a waitress, but realized he certainly didn’t know any better. Anita asked Greta if she wanted anything and she declined the offer. Several minutes went by in silence before Anita returned with the coffee. She pleasantly said, “Agent Stortz and Agent Vigil will be with you shortly. If you need anything, I’ll be outside.”
She gave Greta a little smile. Greta was nervous and it showed in her body language. Her head hung low and she managed to consistently stare at the ground. Anita was always shocked by the look on the interviewees’ faces. They always looked like scolded children, awaiting their ten lashes. It was a combination of fear, embarrassment and guilt.
Scott Vigil walked into the interview room and placed a large brown accordion file next to the table. He said hello to Greta and Mark and sat down at the head of the table. Vigil had a list of questions written on a legal pad, which he placed on the desk. He had a list of questions and he intended to get every one of them answered by the end of the interview. Agent Stortz had an equally long list of questions to ask. The majority of Stortz’s questions were duplicates of Vigil’s and wouldn’t need to be asked twice.
The agents were nothing if not efficient. Stortz entered the room and, without a word to either Greta or Mark, he pushed the record button and said, “Let’s begin.”
Vigil started by saying, “This is an interview of Greta Beck, which is being conducted in the presence of her attorney Mark Trask, Agent Kevin Stortz, and myself, Scott Vigil. The-purpose of today’s interview is to ascertain Miss Beck’s involvement in the procurement of eight mortgages, currently in default.”
With the formalities out of the way, Vigil said, “Let’s start where we left off last time Miss Beck, okay?” He spoke slowly and methodically.
Mark slid back into his chair and tried to get comfortable. They were going to be there for a long time. Vigil rattled off one question after another and Greta tried to answer as quickly as possible. Vigil broached the subject of Christian Locke, but Mark was quick to let the agent know Christian was off limits.
They asked about applications and verification of rent, employment and deposits. Vigil wanted to know how Besiglio, Tamargo, Russo, Ferrara and Garofalo got the money from the closings. Greta explained the checks were all issued to Debra Carl, directly from the title companies.
Greta said, “I never handled any money. The realtor had the title company issue the checks.”
Vigil asked, “Did the lenders know there was money going to a third party?”
“No, but they don’t have to know. You see, invoices and checks issued from the seller’s proceeds don’t have to be disclosed to the lender.”
A look of disbelief came over Vigil’s face, “Really?”
“Yeah.” Greta responded.
“Doesn’t the lender get a copy of the sales contract, showing the money going to Debra Carl?”
“Well,” she paused.
“Miss Beck, do you understand the question?” Vigil asked harshly.
Greta admitted, “yes, I gave them the contract, but I removed addendum, which stated there would be a check issued, to Debra Carl. I removed the addendum on all seven purchases and the simultaneous closing purchase. I knew the lenders wouldn’t care about the checks issued from sellers proceeds unless it was on the contracts. So I just removed the addendums that mentioned the checks.”
This was a satisfactory answer and Vigil moved on, “Miss Beck, did you ever hear Richard Besiglio discuss money with Ferrara, Tamargo, Russo or Garofalo?”
Greta shook her head and said, “No, I’m sorry. I knew that was what you were hoping for, but they never said anything like that in front of me. The realtor setup the contracts. I just did the loans.”
The questions went on for the next hour and a half. Time seemed to slow down in the room and the temperature began to rise. Questions were asked in a monotone, slow motion manor by Vigil and he never seemed to get tired of asking them. After two and a half hours, Mark asked for a short break so Greta could stretch her legs. The strain on Greta was overwhelming. Her hands were sweating so profusely that condensation had built up on the Formica table beneath them. Her mouth felt like cotton and she desperately needed a glass of water. Mark patted her shoulders while Greta drank one glass of water after another, in a vain attempt to quench her thirst.
Mark said, “you’re doing fine Greta, a few more hours and you’ll be finished.”
She twirled her head around and asked, “a few more hours?”
“Well, yeah.” Mark replied.
Her neck muscles felt tighter than twisted steal. She didn’t know if she could take another two or three hours. Stortz flipped the tape to the second side, stepped into the hallway and ask if they were ready to rap things up.
The closing statements took an hour to explain and nothing she said seemed satisfactory. Vigil made the mistake of saying, “Miss Beck, if you knew that simultaneous closings were illegal, why did you do the loan?”
“Well all simultaneous closings aren’t illegal” she replied.
Vigil replied with, “No, Miss Beck, all simultaneous closings are illegal.”
Vigil was out of his element and should have allowed Stortz to take over the interview an hour earlier. Stortz corrected Vigil and the two agents got lost in a debate over the legality of closing a piece of property twice in the same day. Vigil was under the impression it was illegal to close on the same piece of property twice in the same day. Stortz was adamant in his belief that it was legal as long as the lender was aware of both transactions. Mark wasn’t quite sure, and it took Greta to explain the intricacies of the transaction before the agents could agree.
“It’s legal to close on the same piece of property if the lender is aware of both transactions. See you’re not really closing twice. What’s happening is, there’s a house for sale for $40,000 and you buy it for $40,000, but the same day you sell it to me for $70,000. Then we split the $30,000 profit. That’s completely legal.”
Vigil asked, “when does it become illegal?”
“It becomes illegal when the appraiser doesn’t mention the sale for $40,000 and he says the property is already in your name. Plus the title company says the title is in your name – that’s illegal. Also the kick back is illegal too,” she replied.
Vigil nodded his head and said, “So the simultaneous closing you did was illegal because Garofalo’s lender wasn’t aware of the real owner or the kick back?”
“Right. If there was no lender or bank involved and these were all cash transactions, none of us would be sitting here.”
The interview continued and the agents finally came to the conclusion that Greta had very little to offer the government. With the exception of several meetings with Besiglio, she had very little to offer. They were very skeptical about her involvement in purchasing the pagers and money order purchases.
Stortz said, “So you have no idea how your name got on the pager lease?”
Greta answered harshly, “No, I don’t! I told you, Besigilo could have used my name. You said the account was setup by phone.”
Stortz responded with an arrogant sigh, “And the money orders? Miss Beck, I suppose you don’t have any idea how your name got on the money orders either.”
“Well, I suppose Besiglia did that too.”
Mark joined in with, “Agent Stortz, why would she lie about this now? It doesn’t make a difference in her sentencing at this point anyway.”
Vigil and Stortz pressed her hard on the subjects, but she wouldn’t budge. At this point the two agents believed Besiglio was capable of anything and they had no reason to doubt her. It was possible Besiglio could have had the foresight to frame her. Regardless, they had nothing without her testimony. Besiglio was making the FBI look foolish and Greta was the key to indicting him. They had no choice but to believe her.
The interview went on for another hour and finally came to a close. Greta and Mark had been there for five hours. Agent Vigil stood as Greta and Mark left. He explained they may have some follow up questions and said, “We’ll see you at the hearing next week.”
Vigil then thanked the two for their time. Stortz remained seated but nodded as Mark and Greta walked out. He grunted at Vigil in disapproval of the polite remarks.
Stortz asked, “What’s the name of your contact at the IRS?”
Vigil said, “his name’s Moon, why? What’s up?”
“I want you to call him and have the audit take place immediately.”
Vigil nodded and walked to the nearest phone and unleashed the IRS on Christian Locke. He and Stortz then sat down and began filling out their reports to Christine Beach.
THE HEARING WAS SET for 8:30 a.m. Mark Trask escorted Greta Beck into the Federal Middle District of Florida courtroom. The court-room was crowded with lawyers, clerical personnel and clients, all
waiting to be heard. Greta sat patiently in the back row of the court-room. Mark dug through his briefcase and pulled out a large legal folder. He placed it on his lap and started flipping through it. Greta glanced around the room. She was shocked to see so many people waiting to be heard. It was obvious who the attorneys were and who the clients were. All the attorneys were looking at files or talking to the paralegal. The clients just sat quietly staring at the ground. Some rubbed their foreheads and others just spoke to their attorneys, but most stared at the ground in shame. Greta looked at her watch and thought, “In a few minutes I’ll officially be a felon.” She was on the verge of tears.
A large black deputy said loudly, “All rise for the Honorable Judge David Martin.”
The room went silent and the Judge entered though a door located in the south east corner of the courtroom. Judge David Martin was a tall man with short gray hair cut into a flat top. The man gave Greta the impression of a military general. He had a hard coldness to him. Martin had heard and seen it all and was damn tired of the excuses. He gazed out at the courtroom occupants with a stiff look that personified jurisprudence.
Greta was only here to plead guilty and nothing else. She continued to tell herself not to worry, this was not the judge that was going to be sentencing her. She turned and whispered in Mark’s ear in a frantic voice, “Please tell me that’s not the judge that’s going to be sentencing me.”
‘Greta, you’re not here to be sentenced, your just here now to plead guilty. Now take a deep breath, we probably won’t be called for an hour or so.”
She shook her head.
“Okay, I know, but I’m just saying that’s not him is it?”
“Greta, yes, he’s probably going to be the judge that will sentence you. But that’s several months away.”
She knew her dreams would be filled with this man’s image slamming his gavel down and barking out, “one hundred years hard labor!”
She shivered at the thought. After about 45 minutes, Greta heard the clerk screech out, “Mark Trask and Greta Beck please approach.”
Greta’s knees were weak. She took a deep breath and told herself , over and over, “I can do this.”
Mark shot up and gathered his files, briefcase and client. Mark was ready to get out of here. To the attorney, this was simply a formality. He quickly approached the defense table and sat his things down. Greta trailed in behind him. Seated at the next table was the prosecuting attorney. She was all business and Greta was quite nervous. The courtroom had cleared out for the most part. There were
a few attorneys and paralegals gathering their paperwork. Judge Martin asked the deputy to close the court room doors.
“Mrs. Beach, would you like the courtroom cleared, or is this sufficient?”
Beach stood and looked briefly around the room and said, “this
is fine, Your Honor, thanks.”
Mark also looked around the room at its occupants. There were a few attorneys and their associates, no one that looked out of place. Mark would have preferred the robin be cleared, but this wasn’t something he wanted to argue about.
“Mr. Trask?” Judge Martin barked out.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
The Judge said, “is this okay with you, Mr. Trask, or would you
like the room cleared?”
“No, Your Honor, it’s fine.” Mark admitted.
Greta was amazed how at ease the attorneys were with the judge. The man terrified her. The judge said, “well, Mrs Beach, let’s get this over with.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney Christine Beach stood and said, “The
defendant Greta Beck is charged with one count of conspiracy, money laundering and bank fraud. She is willing to enter a plea of guilty for a sentence recommendation. This is contingent upon her cooperation in the prosecution of several unnamed co-conspirators..”
The Judge scowled at Mrs. Beach, “so when do you want the sentencing to take place?”
Mrs. Beach responded with, “well your honor, Ms. Beck will need to testify in front of the grand jury. Then we’ll need to get indictments, at least two months to round up all the participants in this case...’ she paused. “At least 90 days to determine Ms. Beck’s level of cooperation.”
The judge looked at Greta and said, “Ms. Beck, please rise.”
Greta slowly stood and with her head cocked to the left stared sheepishly at the judge.
“Miss Beck, to the charge of conspiracy, money laundering and bank fraud how do you plead?”
The judge stared at Greta with a contempt that was plain and his frown and tightly constructed facial scowl. Greta glanced at Mark and saw the nod.
Greta said softly, “Guilty.”
Her voice cracked. The judge’s face relaxed when he realized he was intimidating the defendant. Judge Martin cleared his throat and said, “Well, Mr. Trask, I guess we’ll see you and Miss Beck,” the judge gave her a slight smile and continued, “back here in 90 days.”
He then turned his attention to Miss Beach and said, “Happy hunting, Miss Beach.”
From the back of the courtroom Saul Goldberg watched it all.
His client Rick Besiglio was about to be indicted or at the very least his associates were. Goldberg doubted the grand jury would indict Besiglio on the testimony of one witness, but if Besiglio’s associates were indited, they would most likely finger him to save their skins. Goldberg walked out of the court room and into the hallway. He pulled out a small cellular phone and dialed Besigio’s number.
“Hey Rick, I think you need to meet me at my office. Yeah
tomorrow; early okay. I’ll see you then. Oh yeah, Rick, bring cash.”
THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE letter arrived with the mail and Christian told himself; “This is not what it looks like.” But it was.
“Your personal taxes have been scheduled for an audit the week of Bla, Bla, Bla.”
“Shit!” Christian said loudly.
He continued to read and apparently the IRS had recently received copies of conflicting tax returns for the past two years. This matter was of a very serious nature. If Christian had any questions he could contact them at Bla, Bla, Bla.”
Christian pushed the intercom button and said, “Stacy get my
accountant on the phone please.”
Stacy’s voice responded with “Okay, I’ll get a him. Um,
“Yeah, what’s wrong Stacy?”
There was a long silence and she said, “The FBI is here to see
you. An agent Stortz and Vigil. Should I send them back to your office?”
Christian sighed, “Yeah, send them back.”
Christian yearned for the days when his only worries were passing his final exams and paying his bills. Now his days consisted of FBI investigations, IRS audits, Department of Banking and Finance
audits and jealous husbands. Life was just getting better and better. The door to the office opened and Stacy walked in with the two agents several feet behind her. Christian stood up and walked around his desk with his hand extended. He gave the impression of a man with no worries.
“Hi, Mr. Stortz..”
Christian shook agent Stortz’s hand vigorously, then quietly switched to agent Vigil.
‘Mr. Vigil,” Christian said smiling.
Four quick pumps of the palm. Christian retreated to the false safety of his chair, three feet of highly polished natural wood was all that separated Christian Locke from his tormentors. Yet he smiled and said, “What can I do for you gentleman?”
Stortz was shocked at Christian’s relaxed state of mind. Didn’t
this man realize they were investigating him? He had to have received a dozen phone calls about the subpoenas. They had subpoenaed his o own company’s record regarding his personal files, for God’s sake! No, this was an act—it had to be! Christian Locke was probably terrified right now and he was just playing it cool. If this was for their benefit, Stortz wasn’t impressed.
Stortz sat down said, “Mr. Locke, I’m sure you’re aware of our investigation into your current mortgages and income documentation.”
Christian started to chuckle and said, “Oh great, that would explain the IRS audit next week.”
Stortz’s face was emotionless as a stone. He gave no reaction. Vigil said, “we need to ask you some questions, Mr. Locke.”
Christian smiled and said, “well, I’ll answer what I can.”
Christian intended to answer as many questions as possible without incriminating himself. He was actually curious about how long it would take before he had to call his attorney.
Agent Stortz leaned forward and said, “We need to notify you of your rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand these rights?”
Christian said, “I understand.”
Stortz responded with a stern, “We’re just letting you know your rights before talking with us, you understand. That way there’s no misunderstandings later.”
The agent changed to a slightly softer tone, “You know Christian, if you don’t have anything to hide, this really shouldn’t be a problem.”
Christian had heard this exact line used on an episode of the television show Law and Order. He recalled that in that particular episode the suspect was found guilty and sentenced to death. Christian’s palms started to sweat.
“You know fellas, I don’t think I’m interested in talking anymore.”
Stortz turned cold and stern again.
“Listen Mr. Locke, we have you on conspiracy, bank fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. You’re going to jail for a long time. Your only hope of receiving a light sentence is by cooperating with us now. We have your files, the lenders files, tax records and unrecorded tax records. We’ve interviewed several people with conflicting stories according to what we’ve found in your files.”
Christian interrupted the agent, “Mr. Stortz, I’d like you to leave my office now.”
Stortz leaned even further in over the desk and closed the gap between himself and Christian to around 2 feet and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk Mr. Locke?”
Christian got the impression this was an ultimatum of sorts. The thought of incarceration entered his mind. Panic set in for the first time. The fact that Mark Trask had told Christian, “nothing takes place
quickly with the FBI,” had been comforting to Christian in the past. He had been under the impression, even if he broke down and confessed to
everything right now, he wouldn’t be arrested for months. Now he wasn’t so sure. Christian looked down in what appeared to be defeat. His gaze dropped beneath his desk drawer to his lap. Agent Stortz glanced at Vigil with confidence in his eyes. At that moment Christian raised his head and his hand. Christian was holding a business card.
“This is my attorney’s card. I’d like you to call him with any questions you have for me regarding this matter.”
Christian had thought about saying, “Now get out or arrest me,” but he was unwilling to broach the subject of incarceration at this point. Stortz had stated earlier that Christian wasn’t under arrest, but now it seemed much more likely. Christian stood and waited for the agents to exit. He was praying they wouldn’t arrest him. It was Friday and the thought of spending the weekend in the county jail was terrifying. That would mean Friday, Saturday, Sunday and at least part of Monday – four days – probably placed in a cell with drunks, thieves, murderers and rapists. Dear God, four days was more than enough time for someone to get attached to him. Christian wasn’t interested in making any new friends. Both the agents stood slowly, turned and walked away. They exited the office via the elevator. Christian breathed in deeply and sighed. Greta walked in.
“You okay, Christian?”
She knew he wasn’t. It had all been a joke to him until now, she thought. Actually seeing the agents staring at you was very sobering.
“Christian, are you okay?” she asked.
Greta gave him a sympathetic smile and said, “I’m sorry, Christian, this is all my fault. If I hadn’t been so fucking greedy.”
Christian stopped her.
“No, it’s not your fault Greta. I’m surprised they didn’t bust me a long time ago. I’m sure I would have done something to attract their attention eventually.”
Greta knew he was only saying this to console her.
“Yeah, but I sparked your investigation and I am sorry. I never
He interrupted her with,”Greta stop. It’s okay.”
Christian always felt it was comical when people apologize for situations they had no real control over. He was finally starting to get his wits back.
“Hell, Greta, I’ve been meaning to take some time off anyway. Not 20 years, but hey.”
Greta started to laugh and tears flowed down her face.
“I am so sorry, Christian.”
Christian felt compelled to hold Greta or console her in some way, but he resisted the urge. Their relationship had been one of platonic friendship with an emphasis on platonic. He simply didn’t feel like placing himself in an uncomfortable embrace with a friend that had
prided herself on keeping everyone at a distance. Christian walked as close as he dared and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Will you stop this. Everything is going to be okay,” he said.
Greta breathed in deeply and wiped her eyes.
‘I’m going to go back to my office now. I have some files to work on okay?”
“All right, Greta.”
They shared a light smile and Greta walked Out of Christian’s office. She seemed so frail and humble. She had lost all her confidence during the FBI investigation. Her spirit was shattered and she was looking at 8 to 10 years in a federal prison. Christian wondered if he would be that lucky.