Friday, July 23, 2010

What To Do If You've Been Arrested for Appraisal Fraud in Pinellas or Hillsborough County Florida

St. Petersburg Criminal Attorney and Former State Prosecutor Melinda Morris of the Morris Law Firm discusses 3 Steps to Take if you have been arrested for Appraisal Fraud (a white collar crime, and subcategory of Mortgage Fraud).


You may know that Florida is now No. 1 in Mortgage Fraud.  What you may not know is that in Florida, the subcategory of Appraisal Fraud soared in 2009, jumping to 36 percent of all Mortgage Fraud cases.  This is a huge increase from 18 percent of mortgage fraud cases reported in 2008.  No other fraud category in Florida reported such a dramatic increase.

Why This Matters To You:

Florida is rapidly cracking down on mortgage fraud and all of its subcategories due to the State’s unsavory title as No. 1 in Mortgage Fraud.  There are federal task forces active in the State of Florida to identify Mortgage Fraud, and more specifically Appraisal Fraud.

A recent Mortgage Asset Research Institute (MARI) report says the most common types of Appraisal Fraud include incorrect (or fabricated) comparables, omitted information affecting a home's value, and value inflation.

The MARI report indicated that in today’s market appraisers are under extreme pressure and are more susceptible to unknowingly or unwittingly commit Appraisal Fraud.  Given current housing market conditions, it is often difficult to complete a home sale given the tight market for mortgages, and strict financial assessments of potential buyers.  For example, an appraiser unfamiliar with certain housing markets may innocently provide inaccurate appraisals.  Appraisers are also fearful of providing home values that do not meet the expectations of the buyer/seller as they don’t want to risk future opportunities for business, thus some appraisers may naively agree to "predetermined" valuations.

Appraisal fraud is nothing new, and was most likely plentiful earlier when the housing market was booming.  With home prices then still rising, few cared enough to report Appraisal Fraud as it did not affect their transaction.  Now, given current market conditions, Appraisal Fraud often jeopardizes the transaction and is thus more often reported and pursued by the authorities.

If you have been accused or arrested for Appraisal Fraud in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Manatee County, or Sarasota County, Florida it is important that you contact an experienced Mortgage Fraud attorney to protect your rights.
In many Appraisal Fraud cases there are potential defenses that may be utilized to reduce the charges, or even have the charges dropped altogether:

·         Lack of Intent
·         Mistaken Identity
·         Failure to Read Miranda Warnings
·         Insufficient Proof

What To Do Next:

If You Are Arrested For Appraisal Fraud (Mortgage Fraud):

1.       Don't speak to the police - ask to have an attorney present.
2.       Don't give a written statement – again, ask to have an attorney present.
3.       Contact an attorney immediately.

It is equally important to engage an attorney quickly as you have a very narrow window of time between when you are either under investigation or arrested and when the State Attorney’s Office and/or U.S. Attorney’s Office makes a decision to file a criminal charge against you.  Hiring an attorney immediately to negotiate on your behalf with the prosecutor gives you the best chance of avoiding criminal charges for Appraisal Fraud.

If you have been arrested for Appraisal Fraud in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, FL, contact a St. Petersburg Mortgage Fraud Attorney to discuss possible defenses that may exist in your case.  Call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736 to discuss your case directly with an attorney.