Rodney Getlan

Rodney Getlan (Photo courtesy of Baltimore County Police Department / December 4, 2012)

Con artist Rodney Getlan did not just take people's money — his actions caused them to lose their homes.

That he stole the sanctuary of a roof and four walls may have led to Getlan's getting a much longer prison term. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts sentenced Getlan to 35 years in prison this week, a sentence on par with punishment for some violent crimes.

"Rodney got what he deserved," said Lauri Hartz, who attended the court proceeding as one of nearly 50 known victims of Getlan's scheme to divert mortgage payments to his own accounts.

Prosecutors say the jail time accurately reflects the severity of Getlan's crime — and shows the ferocity with which mortgage scammers are being pursued. In the wake of the housing market collapse and fraud that helped spur the foreclosure crisis, state and federal prosecutors have taken on a growing caseload, with success.

In another case earlier this year, a man was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his participation in a Ponzi scheme that promised — and failed — to pay off investors' mortgages.

Getlan's "complete disregard for the law as well as the victims" helped to justify a long sentence, said Erin McCarthy Naylor, director of mortgage fraud for the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, a division of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"Your home is your security," said Hartz, 56.

Naylor helped prosecute the case, the first criminal mortgage fraud case that the state agency has been involved in since her position was created last year, in part to offer expertise to local state's attorneys' offices. Before then, investigators would refer potential criminal charges to local or federal prosecutors, and their involvement would end there.

Now the agency is partnering with prosecutors in Carroll and Prince George's county on mortgage fraud cases in which suspects have been indicted. It also has active investigations in Baltimore and Baltimore, Prince George's and Howard counties, she said.

That effort is just one of several examples of how Maryland prosecutors at the state and federal level are putting an emphasis on cracking down on mortgage fraud.

The Maryland attorney general's office routinely investigates mortgage fraud and has discussed expanding those investigations using funds from a national legal settlement related to unfair mortgage servicing practices, including "robo-signing."

And the U.S. attorney's office for Maryland started coordinating a mortgage fraud task force three years ago that has funneled several mortgage fraud cases to courts.

Among the recent federal sentences in Maryland for mortgage fraud:

•In November, an Ellicott City title agent was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing nearly $700,000 from mortgage escrow accounts.

•In June, the assistant manager of a Gambrills mortgage company was sentenced to four years in prison for a mortgage fraud scheme adding up to $4.9 million.

•In May and March, respectively, a mortgage broker and a loan officer were each sentenced to more than three years in prison for creating a fraudulent mortgage rescue scheme that resulted in more than $1.2 million in losses.

•In March, Andrew Hamilton Williams Jr. was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his participation in a $78 million Ponzi scheme in which Williams and his co-conspirators, part of a business called Metro Dream Homes, didn't pay off investors' mortgages as promised.

In the Getlan case, Hartz and her mother, Sally Begun-Gordon, 83, lost about $30,000 to the fraud. But their financial and emotional distress has been much greater, Hartz said. Now both of their homes are in the foreclosure process. Hartz is going through mediation with her lender; her mother has not reached that point yet.

The two Rockville residents were referred to Getlan by their mortgage broker, so they had reason to think he was legitimate, Hartz said.