John Perry Jr. went to great lengths to diversify his portfolio of white-collar criminal conspiracies, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
In November 2014, the Charlotte man became one of the last of more than 90 defendants to plead guilty to his role in “Wax House,” a massive mortgage- and investment-fraud operation that bilked celebrities, banks and everyday homeowners out of an estimated $75 million.
While he was out on bond before his Wax House trial, Perry helped start and operate an illegal debt-collection agency that targeted thousands of people around the country, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Vento said. According to an indictment unsealed last week, Perry and four co-conspirators threatened and coerced individuals and families to pony up $3 million for old debts, some of which the victims didn’t even owe.
Perry, who was formally released from his two-year Wax House sentence on July 14, was a free man for exactly one week before he was arrested on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. When he entered a federal courtroom in Charlotte on Wednesday, Perry still had most of his two years of probation from his earlier conviction still to serve.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Vento made sure U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler was aware of those facts during what became a rousing legal debate over whether Perry should be allowed to post bond to get out of the Mecklenburg jail.
He was not.
Before ordering the 36-year-old detained, Keesler asked defense attorney Claire Rauscher how he could possibly release him.
“He just finished a two-year sentence,” she replied.
In an unusual move for a preliminary detention hearing, the veteran Charlotte lawyer had called on three members of the audience to tell the judge of Perry’s contributions to the community as a devoted father of two sons and as a coach and mentor who donated time and money to a sports league for impoverished youth.
Perry’s parents were on hand, and his brother Brandon promised the judge that he would help ensure that Perry met the conditions of his freedom.
“You’ve got all the good and the bad,” Rauscher told Keesler at one point. “Conditions can be set that will protect the safety of the community.”
Keesler was not persuaded. He described the new allegations against Perry as “despicable.”
“He’s got a (racketeering) conviction. And if the government’s case is to be believed, he’s charged right after that with behavior that shocks the conscience,” he said. “This is deplorable behavior by a group of people. How can I simply ignore this? How can I conclude that there’s anything I can do to stop him from conning people while he’s out?”
Wax House was one of the largest mortgage-fraud investigations in U.S. history in terms of losses and the number of victims, who were spread across Mecklenburg and Union counties.
In Wax House, according to Vento, Perry was a “small fish in a big pond.” He eventually pleaded guilty to arranging a fraudulent mortgage transaction that led to a loss of $500,000, with $200,000 in kickbacks funneled through Perry’s personal bank account. Several other charges were dropped.
While Vento described Perry as a minor figure in the conspiracy, his prosecution was a lengthy one. With Rauscher as his attorney, Perry’s first trial in June 2014 ended in a hung jury.
He accepted a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2014. Nine months later, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison. He was released to a halfway house this spring.
While prosecutors say Perry’s mortgage-fraud and alleged criminal debt-collecting activities weren’t related, the timing of the two cases overlap.
In 2012, the same year Perry was indicted in the Wax House probe, he became the owner and operator of a company named RJ Financial, Vento said. The new indictment says the company used “false and misleading information” and “harassing and abusive tactics” to scare targets into paying real or phony debts.
Vento said Perry’s role in this conspiracy was different. Now, he was a “big fish in a small pond,” with a staff he helped hire and train that defrauded mostly disadvantaged targets.
The company shut down in November 2014 after an FBI raid. Perry accepted the Wax House plea deal a few weeks later.
Vento told Keesler that Perry has shown no sign of rehabilitation, that since his release to the halfway house he has lost two jobs because he didn’t show up.
Five years ago at his initial court appearance after his Wax House indictment, Perry told the court he was earning no more than $2,000 a month, she said. But Vento said authorities have since learned that not long after making that statement, Perry paid $32,000 in cash for a Maserati.
Rauscher said Perry was a name on the letterhead at RJ Financial. Other defendants in related debt-collection cases started the company and trained the staff, she said.
Perry, she told the judge, “had learned his lesson.”
Keesler wasn’t willing to go that far.
Rauscher said she planned appeal his decision.
Researcher Maria David contributed