Sunday 17 December 2017

Further evidence heard in case of Kildare man wanted in US over fraud, money laundering and identity theft

Niamh O'Donoghue

The High court has been hearing further evidence in the case of a Co. Kildare man wanted by US authorities over fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

Patrick Lee (41), is alleged to have knowingly engaged in a scheme with others to intentionally defraud numerous US banks and mortgage lenders out of loans for properties, which were never repaid.

American authorities have sought his extradition for him to be prosecuted for 51 offences including 29 counts of wire fraud, 6 counts of unlawful monetary transaction and 16 counts of aggravated identity theft.

Mr Lee, with an address at Newtown, County Kildare, claims the allegations against him, which he absolutely denies, are incorrect and untrue.

The felony offences carry a total maximum sentence of up to 42 years in prison.

Yesterday (FRI) counsel for the state, Ms Cathleen Noctor BL, opened a number of documents to the High Court including correspondence from an assistant state attorney in Massachusetts.

Ms Noctor previously told the court that a number of properties were purchased in several locations around Boston between 2006 and 2007 and subsequently converted into one or more apartments.

The scheme involved a number of participants including Mr Lee, real estate lawyers and “straw buyers,” who were recruited to draw down mortgages on the apartments, which they never intended to occupy.

The “straw buyers” were assured the properties would be resold within six months and received up to $20k each in exchange for their date of birth, social security number and signatures, all of which were required to draw down the mortgage loans.

Lee is alleged to have fraudulently prepared appraisals of the properties, even though he was not a fully licensed appraiser under Massachusetts law, counsel said, and he received about $1 million for his role in the scheme.

“All of the properties fell into foreclosure and the lenders lost a lot of money,” Ms Noctor said.

The fraud is alleged to have occurred when the lenders wired the mortgage loans to real estate lawyers who closed the sales. Loan disbursements were made partly in reliance on appraisals forged by Lee, counsel said.

Yesterday (FRI) the court heard US prosecutors claim that if Mr Lee were extradited he would be entitled to apply for bail and would be tried within 70 days.

The court also heard of alleged overcrowding at three facilities where Mr Lee could be detained.

In an affidavit previously opened in court, Mr Lee said he was arrested on May 9, 2012 by the gardaí and he believed his extradition to the US related to an alleged fraud.

He said these proceedings were maintained notwithstanding the acquittal of one of his co-accused in a Massachusetts court.

Mr Lee claimed to have a number of health concerns which he would not receive adequate care for in the US prison system.

“I will be removed from my family and my family life will be shattered,” Mr Lee added.

Counsel for Mr Lee, Kieran Kelly BL, previously told the court his client would be exposed to cruel and inhumane treatment should he be surrendered to US authorities.

Mr Kelly said he had a sworn affidavit from an Irish Army Commandant who attested to the view that extraordinary rendition took place and arms were passed through Shannon Airport, despite an official stance by US authorities to the contrary.

Counsel said the affidavit was sent to the US authorities and in response, Mr Lee was told not to worry about it because he was not a terrorist.

“There is enough evidence to show something untoward happened in Shannon. Truthfulness in assertions was enough,” counsel said, for a judge in Canada to refuse the surrender of a Canadian citizen.

The case continues in front of Mr Justice John Edwards on March 12 when submissions will be made by the defence.

Mr Justice Edwards said that he would be reading the documentation thoroughly before making any decision.

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