Even her husband hasnt seen it.
Janette Parker is so embarrassed by the electronic ankle bracelet locked around her right leg that she wears long pants, dresses in private and slips beneath the bedcovers before allowing her closest confidante, the man she married 29 years ago, to enter their room.
Who wears an ankle bracelet? Parker asked and she began to cry. She paused to compose herself, then answered her own question: A criminal.
In my mind, she said, Im not a criminal.
Six years after a scandal enveloped Beazer Homes USA over its reckless loan practices, costing millions of dollars and forcing hundreds of foreclosures, Parker is the only employee from the companys mortgage unit to be charged with a crime.
To put that in perspective: Janette Parker, a mother of two with a high school education, was the only person criminally charged with mishandling loans for one of the Fortune 500 companies at the heart of the nations financial crisis.
Out of the dozens of executives and thousands of employees, Parker wants to know:
Why me? How me?
Parker, who is 49, managed the Beazer Mortgage office in Charlotte for seven years. She understands what Beazer did was wrong. What she did was wrong. She pleaded guilty to three counts of mortgage fraud and was sentenced in October to five years of probation and a year of house arrest and ordered to repay $837,025 in restitution.
She is not contesting her guilt. But with the governments investigation now closed, Parker and her attorney question why she was singled out to become the public face of mortgage fraud while more powerful, higher-paid executives avoided criminal prosecution. Even a federal judge asked why.
Beazers brazen violation of federal regulations had devastating consequences.
While the Atlanta-based homebuilder amassed $389 million in profits in 2006, more than 13 percent of the homes it built in Mecklenburg County had foreclosed, leaving behind wrecked families and ravished neighborhoods.
Beazer Homes and two top executives escaped prosecution by paying back millions of dollars. A third executive was convicted of securities fraud, but has asked for a new trial.
In the subsidiary loan operation, where most of the irregularities occurred, only Janette Parker was indicted.
Shes a nobody
Prosecuting Parker, said attorney Tricia Derr, is comparable to charging a clerk at Target because the sales tax was computed wrong: Parker did what her bosses trained her to do.
Shes so far down the chain, Derr said. Shes a nobody. Shes not the CEO. She didnt come up with the idea. ... The person who came up with the plan to go around HUD guidelines, thats the person responsible.
Parker initially said she was too scared to talk with the Observer. It was the newspapers investigation in 2007 that led to the federal probe of Beazer and eventually to the charges against her. But Derr said its important for the public to understand the results of the governments investigation and she encouraged Parker to tell her story.
To have your children look at you , Parker said, then stopped. Derr handed her a tissue.
I always taught them you do something youre not supposed to do, theres a consequence. Again, tears. Parker tried one last time, but gave up and said:
How did I let myself get to this place?
A booming market
Parker was working as a vice president at U.S. Mortgage, handling conventional loans, when she saw an ad in 2000 for an office manager with Beazer Mortgage. The company was a subsidiary of Beazer Homes, created in 1996 so that Beazer would not only build new homes, but could also arrange loans for the buyers.
Parker made good money at U.S. Mortgage she estimated around $98,000 in commissions her last year there. Beazer promised more. It guaranteed her a starting salary of $45,000, Parker said, in addition to lucrative commissions.
She said Ron Kuhn, head of mortgage operations, interviewed her at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. My main concern, Parker said, was that I had no background in government-backed loans. He said I was trainable.
Like other companies, Beazer was taking advantage of loan guarantees provided by the federal government to promote home ownership to first-time and lower-income buyers. In the past, many of those applicants had been considered too risky.
But the Federal Housing Administration guaranteed that if a borrower defaulted, it would cover the mortgage payment and it was increasingly willing to gamble on risky borrowers.
Lenders and home builders had little to lose.
In the Charlotte area, Beazer began experimenting with building low-cost homes. Prices were so affordable in the Southern Chase subdivision in Cabarrus County starting at less than $80,000 that people camped outside the sales office the night before lots went on sale in 1997.
The Beazer way
Parker was thrilled to get the job.
She grew up poor, the oldest of eight children of a logger and a stay-at-home mom in rural Indiana. After a year at a Christian college, she followed her boyfriend south to his hometown of Charlotte. They married in 1984.
Now here she was 16 years later, hired by one of the biggest homebuilders in America to oversee its Charlotte mortgage office.
Parker said she was taught how to process government-backed mortgages during a PowerPoint presentation in Miami: If the buyer needed additional money say the sales price was $105,000 and they needed a $3,000 down payment then you would add that to the sales price . Anybody that did government loans did it the same way.
Parker said she assumed the practice was legal because her bosses trained her, and it was standard practice within the company.
Did I learn it? Sure, I learned it the Beazer way.
$250,000 in one year
When she took charge of the mortgage office, she said five other employees worked there. The office was understaffed and they were processing a lot of loans, Parker recalled. I pulled up my sleeves and ... took off running.
The pace of work was unrelenting. Between 1997 and 2006, Beazer built about 2,900 homes in Mecklenburg County alone.
Parker became known for her binder of FHA regulations. Janettes Bible, coworkers nicknamed it.
She was so caught up in the sell-sell-sell atmosphere at Beazer that she missed a lot of her two daughters teenage years, something that pains her to this day. She could afford to send them to a private Christian school and buy them the kind of fashionable clothes her parents could never afford. But during many of their sports competitions, and on the night her youngest was crowned homecoming queen, Parker was working.
One year, according to a prosecutor, she made $250,000 in commissions.
Obviously, she said, the money motivated her. But she said she felt passionate about helping people buy their first homes and recalled the day a single mother came to her office with her little boy. I thought this is such a great program for these people. They can have the American Dream.
An epidemic of fraud
The 2007 Observer series showed that Beazer enticed buyers into signing for larger loans than they could afford.
Some families did not have money for a down payment despite an FHA requirement that borrowers pay at least three percent of the sales price. Its against the law for a company to give money for a down payment directly to a homeowner because the gift could be construed as an inducement to buy a home.
In Charlotte, the Observer discovered, Beazer helped provide many down payments.
Beazer would donate the exact amount of the down payment to a charity, plus a $300 fee. The charity would then give the homebuyer the money as a gift. That was legal at the time. But Beazer went one step further in some cases and increased home prices to recoup its donations. That was illegal.
It meant buyers were overpaying, increasing the chances of default. The government, which guaranteed the loans, was on the hook.
In March 2007, the FBI, HUD and the IRS launched a criminal investigation.
That same month, Parker said she was promoted to regional vice president over six Beazer Mortgages offices in the Carolinas and Tennessee.
At the time, Im excited! I have worked hard ... Its paid off!
Now she wonders if she was set up to take the fall. Despite her promotion, she said she reported to the same bosses.
Attorney Eben Rawls, who represented Parker on criminal charges and declined to comment, said in court: It certainly put her at the top of the chain with the bulls eye on her back.
A few months later, without warning, Parker said Beazer placed her on administrative leave.
It was a Monday. To this day I dont wear the outfit I wore that day or the jewelry. They told me to turn in my keys. I asked, Whats going on? and they said, I cant tell you any more than that.
The company later closed Beazer Mortgage, fired an undisclosed number of employees including Parker, and announced that it would stop building homes in Charlotte.
Parker was indicted four years later in September 2011.
Prosecutors accused her of illegally increasing the price of homes to offset money Beazer paid out for down payments. To justify the inflated prices, they said she influenced appraisers to value homes at more than they were worth and caused sales agents to add false upgrades.
Her motive, prosecutors suggested, was greed.
The more homes she sold, the higher the prices, the greater her commissions. Between 2002 and 2007, a prosecutor said, Parker earned $1.3 million from Beazer.
Prosecutors said Parker was too well-versed in the mortgage industry to be unaware that what she was doing was wrong, and they cited emails as evidence that she knew Beazer was circumventing federal regulations.
But the governments description of her as a ringleader conflicts with her reputation among former co-workers.
She absolutely was doing what she was told, and how she was told to do it, by Beazer, said one co-worker. She did exactly the same as everybody else in the nation and at all the other homebuilders.
Six former co-workers came to her defense but asked to remain anonymous because, as one of them put it: If they could charge Janette Parker, they could sure charge me.
Prosecutors offered Parker a plea agreement. If she refused, Parker said, she was told the government would bring more serious charges that could land her in prison for up to 30 years.
Either I take this plea bargain and am able to be with our girls and see our granddaughters, Parker said, or I take a chance.
The governments case hinged on three loans, but prosecutor Michael Savage said in court that the government could have charged Parker in connection with 47. He said they could have charged other workers in the Charlotte office, too, but chose not to because they just did what Ms. Parker had to say because she was the manager
Savage urged Judge Max Cogburn Jr. to send Parker to prison, saying its important to the hundreds of people who got literally screwed as a result of what happened.
Who else got prosecuted in this company besides her and the financial officer? Judge Cogburn asked.
That would be it, your Honor, Savage said.
Cogburn echoed concerns raised by federal judges in other corporate cases. ... A lot of people made money off this stuff, and they are still out there, Cogburn said. Its that way throughout the industry ... The big timers are still out there that made all the money in the world ... She is the one thats having to answer for all this stuff.
And later in the hearing, Cogburn added: Their officers are probably its starting to get cold weather theyve got to go south for the winter. They got to go down to the Bahamas.
Rather than send Parker to prison, Cogburn placed her on five years probation and a year of house arrest.
Victim or perpetrator?
Under the terms of her house arrest, Parker can be away from home during the day. She now works for a company that manages homeowners associations.
Recently, she said, the government began garnishing $600 a month from her paycheck, up from $50 a month.
She hired Derr in hopes of compelling Beazer to help repay the $837,025 she owes the FHA in restitution. Judge Cogburns order stipulates that Beazer is jointly and severally liable and the prosecutor said the homebuilder deserve(s) to pay. A spokesperson for Beazer which continues to build houses across the country but not in Charlotte declined to comment.
Parker devotes most of her free time to her family. She quit jogging because she worries someone might notice the ankle bracelet.
At work, she is no longer the confident businesswoman former co-workers remember. Every day, she said, she questions every decision.
I ask God and I get so angry at Him. How did you allow this to happen? I cant see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whats the purpose in it? Is it because I worked all the time? I question it. It has challenged my faith. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was being a good little Baptist girl.
Leland: 704-358-5074 Researcher Maria David contributed.
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