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Posted: Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2009

Accused real estate lawyer takes stand

By Gary L. Wright
Published in: Local News

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Charlotte real estate lawyer Victoria Sprouse, accused of participating in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme, took the stand in her own defense Monday, weeping as she denied committing any crimes.

“There was no reason for me to do this,” Sprouse told jurors. “This has ruined my life.”

In tears, she recounted how her arrest in the federal case also has crushed her business. She told jurors she used to conduct 3,000 mortgage closings a year. Now she does three to five a month.

“I've been financially ruined,” she said.

Sprouse is accused of lying to lenders, falsifying settlement statements and stealing from her clients while reaping millions of dollars for her and co-conspirators – including mortgage brokers, real estate agents and an appraiser.

The 38-year-old real estate lawyer is charged with bank fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. If convicted on all the charges, she could spend more than 25 years in prison.

Five men indicted along with her have pleaded guilty to their roles in the mortgage fraud case involving about $15 million in loans and more than 200 properties. Two of them testified for the prosecution last week.

Prosecutors have said Sprouse contributed to a wave of foreclosures in the Charlotte area, and that such frauds have played a significant role in the banking meltdown that has crippled the U.S. economy.

Sprouse, who testified about five hours Monday, told jurors she'd never been convicted of a crime. She recalled the day federal agents knocked on her door to arrest her, and described what her life has been like since.

“I want to get married and have kids,” she testified. “I can't do that with this hanging over my head. It's not fair to my boyfriend.”

Asked if she had comitted bank fraud, Sprouse replied, “No. Never.”

Asked if she'd made mistakes in her business, she replied: “I made a lot of mistakes.”

Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Martens, Sprouse admitted that she had signed documents without reviewing them. She said she should not have let her paralegals do so much of the work.

The prosecutor will continue his cross-examination this morning.

Defense witnesses portrayed Sprouse as trustworthy, honest and ethical.

Sprouse told jurors that she depended on her paralegals to prepare documents properly but acknowledged that she hadn't closely supervised them.

She said she spent much of her time in closings.

“I couldn't keep up with everything,” she said. “I was working too much.

“I was signing a lot of documents, and I wasn't paying any attention to what I was signing.”

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