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U.S. wants ex-mortgage boss to get life in prison

Booking photograph of Lee Farkas of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp
Booking photograph of Lee Farkas of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have urged a judge to send the former chairman of bankrupt Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp to prison for the rest of his life for masterminding the $2.9 billion fraud scheme that took down the company.

Lee Farkas, 58, was convicted in April on 14 counts of conspiracy, bank, securities and wire fraud as part of the scheme, in which he used some of the proceeds to live a lavish lifestyle with a jet and a collection of antique cars.

Prosecutors said in a court filing on Thursday that the statutory maximum was 385 years and they urged District Judge Leonie Brinkema to sentence him to at least 50 years to ensure that Farkas spends the rest of his life in prison.

"The nature, duration, and scope of Farkas's criminal acts warrant maximum punishment for maximum deterrence," they said. Sentencing is scheduled for Thursday.

The fraud began in 2002 and ran until Taylor, Bean filed for bankruptcy in August 2009. The mortgage firm's collapse was a major contributing factor to the implosion of one of the largest U.S. regional banks, Colonial Bank.

Farkas was accused of running a wide-ranging scheme to cover up large losses at Taylor, Bean by moving funds between accounts at Colonial Bank and also by selling mortgage loans that either did not exist, were worthless or had already been sold.

He also attempted to help Colonial BancGroup Inc's Colonial Bank obtain a $553 million loan from the federal bank bailout program, but the money was never disbursed. The bank was shut down by regulators and most of its assets were sold to BB&T Corp.

Prosecutors have also asked that Farkas be required to forfeit more than $42 million.

Farkas' defense team urged the judge to sentence the former mortgage executive to 15 years in prison, noting that it was nearly double that of the longest sentence already handed out in the case, and to skip any fine since he is essentially broke.

"The government has consistently gone out of its way to paint Mr. Farkas as a greedy and manipulative man out for little more than personal gain," his lawyers said in their own filing.

"Even a cursory review of the large numbers of letters submitted to this court show that Mr. Farkas is far from the greed-afflicted monster which the government attempts to paint him as," they said.

The lawyers argued 15 years would serve as a sufficient deterrent. Farkas has lost almost all of his assets, is subject to forfeiture of any remaining property and faces a potentially large restitution order, so no fine should be imposed, they said.

Several other Taylor, Bean and Colonial Bank employees who pleaded guilty for their roles in the fraud were sentenced earlier this month. The longest sentence so far handed down was eight years to Catherine Kissick, who was Farkas' key point of contact at Colonial Bank.

The case is USA v. Farkas, No. 10-cr-200, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Matthew Lewis and Gerald E. McCormick)

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