The Times Herald reports…
“On judgment day, a former Pottstown pastor and convicted thief with ties to a Phoenixville area ministry learned his fate included a stint in federal prison for his involvement in a $6 million real estate fraud scheme.
Michael A. Wilkerson Sr., 47, formerly of Savanna Drive, East Coventry, who according to court papers was once pastor of New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship, with locations in Phoenixville and Spring City, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to 170 months in a federal penitentiary and five years’ of probation. Wilkerson also must share, with his co-conspirators, in the payment of $1,353,111 in restitution.
During an eight-day, nonjury trial earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg, who imposed the punishment, convicted Wilkerson of charges of bank fraud, loan application fraud and aiding and abetting in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain $6 million in home loans for properties along Turnberry Circle in Schwenksville and Pumpkin Hill Road in Glenmoore between 2006 and 2008.
Denise Haines, 43, of Birdsboro, Berks County, a onetime mortgage broker with American Group Mortgage Corporation, was convicted of identical charges and faces sentencing Nov. 12 in federal court, according to Patricia Hartman, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Wilkerson’s wife, Joyce, who previously pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges, was sentenced Wednesday to one day in federal prison and four years of probation for her role in the scheme. Goldberg also ordered the pastor’s wife to complete 400 hours of community service, 100 hours each year, during the probationary period and to share in restitution.
Wilkerson, the founder and former pastor of the Freedom Christian Deliverance Center on Walnut Street in Pottstown and a former television evangelist on PCTV, is no stranger to law enforcement.
Wilkerson previously served state prison time for a fraudulent financial scheme during the construction of his planned $1.7 million luxury home along Red Corner Road in Union Township, Berks County.
In 2011, Wilkerson was convicted in Montgomery County Court of a felony bad check charge in connection with a 2009 incident during which he wrote a bad check for $111,000 to purchase a Mercedes Benz from a Whitemarsh dealership. He was sentenced to 1½ to 7 years in a state prison for that crime.
According to the federal indictment, Wilkerson operated a real estate development business known as Agape Development Co., of which his wife, Joyce, was part owner.
Wilkerson, authorities alleged, recruited several of his congregants, and the congregants’ families and friends, to participate in a number of real estate transactions. If they had good credit and acted as “straw purchasers” — meaning they would sign loan documents as the purchaser of a house and attend the property settlement – Michael Wilkerson would pay them $15,000. Wilkerson paid the recruits another $5,000 if they referred other straw purchasers to him, according to the indictment.
The pastor recruited at least six individuals who agreed to be straw purchasers of homes. Haines submitted fraudulent loan applications in the transactions to Chase Manhattan Bank. The fraudulent loan applications falsely represented the appraised value of the homes, the identification of the “straws,” the source of funds, the borrower’s income and assets, and their intent to take possession of the homes as their primary residence.
Based on the representations made in the loan documents, Haines knew she could get Chase Manhattan Bank to approve the loans with little verification of the information on the loan applications, authorities alleged.
Lee Garell, 66, of Elkins Park, a real estate broker who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in connection with the scheme, prepared the sales paperwork for each of the homes sold to the “straws” and, along with Michael Wilkerson, dictated the fraudulent terms set out in the settlement sheets, according to the indictment. Garell learns his fate on Thursday.
Authorities alleged Joyce Wilkerson assisted in the scheme by writing out the checks to the “straws,” and also pretended to be a co-purchaser of each of the homes at the time of settlement.
When the loans were funded at the time of settlement, the defendants manipulated the documents prepared at settlement and, later, forwarded the settlement documents to Chase Manhattan Bank to make it appear to the bank that the “straws” brought considerable cash to the closings, court documents alleged. All of the money involved at the settlement actually came from Chase Manhattan Bank and the defendants shared in the profits from the fraudulent sales, authorities alleged.
After settlement on the homes, Michael Wilkerson took possession of all of the homes, rented at least two of them and lived in another. He paid the mortgages with the proceeds from the fraudulent mortgage transactions and with rental income for approximately six months, then told the “straw” purchasers that they had to pay the mortgages. This last act led to the loans falling into default and then foreclosure, resulting in a loss of approximately $3 million, according to authorities.”