Lee Farkas, the ex-chairman of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., was sentenced to 30 years in prison for leading a $3 billion fraud involving fake mortgage assets.
Farkas, who has been in custody since his conviction in April of 14 counts of conspiracy and bank, wire and securities fraud, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, to forfeit more than $38 million.
“I actually don’t believe you accept responsibility for these criminal acts,” Brinkema said today as she handed down the sentence. “This was a very serious series of crimes.”
Prosecutors said Farkas, 58, orchestrated one of the U.S.’s largest and longest-running bank frauds, which duped some of the country’s biggest financial institutions, targeted the federal bank bailout program and contributed to the failures of Taylor Bean and Montgomery, Alabama-based Colonial Bank.
Farkas, who was wearing a green jumpsuit with the word “prisoner” stenciled on the back, appeared thinner and his hair darker than during his two-week trial. He read from a statement saying he had to “take risks” because he couldn’t accept the failure of the company.
“I believe that everyone at TBW and Colonial Bank were acting together in good faith to help each other,” Farkas said.
Thomas O’Brien, counsel to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver for Colonial Bank, spoke at the sentencing as a victim of Farkas’s crimes. He said the collapse of Colonial Bank was the sixth-largest bank failure in U.S. history and the third largest failure since “the 2007 financial crisis.”
Colonial Bank’s failure cost the FDIC’s insurance fund about $4.2 billion, he said. Of that, $1.8 billion can be attributed to the Farkas conspiracy, he said.
“This fraud made a significant contribution to the failure of an institution that was already on the ropes,” O’Brien said.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said he was pleased with the sentence even though it was less than what prosecutors had pushed for.
“I think 30 years has a very powerful deterrent message,” Breuer said in an interview with reporters in the courthouse. “If that’s not a deterrent to you then you’re brain dead.”
In court papers, prosecutors sought 385 years or no less than 50 years.
Prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum that the recommended punishment would be consistent with sentences imposed on “similarly situated” white-collar defendants, such as Bernard Madoff and former WorldCom Inc. Chairman Bernard Ebbers. Madoff, 73, is serving a 150-year sentence for $17 billion in losses and Ebbers, 69, received 25 years for an $11 billion accounting fraud.
Brinkema in court today called a sentence of 385 years “silly.”
Patrick Stokes, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section, told the judge today that the crimes committed by Farkas contributed to the “financial crisis of 2008” and that anything less than a life sentence would send the wrong message.
“He killed a bank, Colonial Bank,” Stokes said. “He killed his own company, TBW.”
U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in Alexandria said the 30-year term “ensures that Lee Farkas will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Years Behind Bars
William Cummings, one of Farkas’s lawyers, said his client is planning an appeal. He said the actual time Farkas will serve behind bars is about 25 years.
Bruce Rogow, a lawyer for Farkas, urged Brinkema to send his client to prison for no more than 15 years.
Prosecutors originally sought a money judgment of $42 million, claiming that Farkas was paid millions in salary and “personally stole” more than $40 million from Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank. That was changed to the $38 million imposed today.
Six conspirators to the fraud scheme who pleaded guilty have been sentenced by Brinkema to prison terms ranging from three months to eight years.
The case is U.S. v. Farkas, 10-cr-00200, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).