By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
7:36 PM EST, November 10, 2011
The owner of a company that defrauded more than 1,000 homeowners — most from Maryland — in an "egregious" $78 million investment scheme was convicted Thursday in federal court in Greenbelt of conspiracy to commit money laundering and related crimes.
Andrew Hamilton Williams Jr., 60, of Metro Dream Homes promised to pay off people's mortgages if they invested in his company, according to the U.S. attorney for Maryland. But it was nothing but a Ponzi scheme, prosecutors said. Williams and other company officials used some of the proceeds to enrich themselves, at one point hiring chauffeurs to drive them around in a fleet of luxury cars.
"Metro Dream Homes was an egregious fraud scheme, and an excellent example of the principle that financial schemes that sound too good to be true are usually scams," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.
The pitch went like this, according to prosecutors: Invest at least $50,000 in Metro Dream Homes' business ventures, and the company would in turn make your mortgage payments for you — paying the loan off completely in five to seven years.
But the company's ventures, such as electronic kiosks that sold goods and services, never produced much money, prosecutors said. Williams and other Metro Dream Homes leaders used money from new recruits to pay the mortgages of early investors, who were then asked "to attend recruitment meetings to assure potential investors that the Dream Homes Program was not a fraud," according to the U.S. attorney.
"It was like a Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme," said Phillip Robinson, executive director of Civil Justice, a Baltimore nonprofit group that referred some of the victims to prosecutors. "They just preyed upon people. … The moral of this story is verify, verify, verify."
Metro Dream Homes — which began recruiting investors in 2005, during the housing bubble — encouraged its victims to raise the necessary money by refinancing their mortgages, prosectors said. In addition to the luxury-car fleet, leaders used that money to pay themselves up to $200,000 a year, to purchase tickets to the 2007 Super Bowl and to pay their own mortgages.
Williams, a Florida man, is scheduled for sentencing March 30. He faces the possibility of 30 years in prison for each of 15 counts of wire fraud, up to 30 years for fraud conspiracy, and up to 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
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