Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against 17 more defendants in a massive mortgage fraud investigation involving luxury homes in Mecklenburg and Union counties.
An additional 14 defendants charged in connection with the long-running investigation, known as Operation Wax House, also have agreed to plead guilty, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The charges and plea agreements announced Wednesday bring the total number of defendants charged in Operation Wax House to 81. Defendants include builders, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, appraisers, attorneys, straw buyers, a notary and a bank employee.
The charges also show the scope of alleged illegal activities is far broader than previously described.
The Enterprise, as authorities call the scheme, operated from about 2005 to the present and engaged in an extensive pattern of racketeering activities consisting of investment fraud, mortgage fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and distribution of illegal drugs, according to U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins. Members of the Enterprise also bribed bank officials and committed perjury before the grand jury, the prosecutor said.
Those involved agreed to buy homes at their true price and then arranged buyers who would pretend to have the assets to buy the homes at an inflated value, generally $200,000 to $500,000 higher than the actual price. At closing, the participants would split the difference. Many of those homes later fell into foreclosure.
The crimes involved some 80 homes and $100 million in loans, prosecutors have said. Affected neighborhoods include Chatelaine, Firethorne, Piper Glen, Providence Downs South, Skyecroft, Stratford on Providence and Woodhall.
The Internal Revenue Services criminal investigation division assisted in the investigation, which is ongoing.