DE scammers plead guilty mid-trial

Discussion of various forms of Advance Fee Fraud, including application fees for loans that never materialize, self-liquidating loan scams, as well as mortgage elimination scams and related debt elimination scams [Nigerian-type scams should go in the Nigerian 4-1-9 forum]
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DE scammers plead guilty mid-trial

Postby Demosthenes » Thu Jul 10, 2008 6:55 pm

Dad, son plead guilty to defrauding debtors
Pickerington men's scheme victimized about 400 people
Thursday, July 10, 2008 6:23 AM
By Jodi Andes

The Web site offered to wipe away thousands in debt, "no matter how much you owe."

The plan was "100% legal" and "100% successful," the Pickerington father and son promised on their site.

But what Chad and Dan Wickline's company, Liberty Resources, did was put about 400 people further into debt. In fact, the company's scheme actually sent some people into bankruptcy and defrauded its victims of hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said in federal court.

Yesterday, midway through their trial, the Wicklines pleaded guilty to defrauding customers in a scheme that promised to eliminate credit-card debt.

Their pleas, which will send both of the Wicklines to federal prison, came during a trial in U.S. District Court that started June 26.

Martin Smith, who testified in the case this month, admitted that he should have realized the claims were too good to be true.

The environmental engineer from Carthage, Mo., had racked up $50,000 in credit-card debt after a divorce and remarriage. He became involved with Liberty Resources when he received an unsolicited e-mail from the company that promised "debt elimination."

Smith testified that Chad Wickline told him that Liberty Resources would make all of Smith's debt go away if he paid $7,500.

The company's alleged secret weapon was what Smith was told was a little-known fact that federally insured banks really don't have the authority to issue credit, Smith testified.

So under Wickline's advice, Smith stopped paying his bills and fought his bank over his debt. For the $7,500, he and other victims got a document saying they were absolved of their debt.

But the debt never went away. And Smith, who said he had pristine credit before dealing with Liberty Resources, developed credit problems. He also ended up paying back $45,000 of the debt, in addition to the $7,500 he paid Liberty.

The money, he said, came thanks to a loan from his father.

Smith was one of several people who testified against the Wicklines. The victims came from all parts of the country.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel A. Brown and Marcia Harris told jurors that the Wicklines never ended anyone's debts. Many declared bankruptcy, they said.

Internal Revenue Service agent Robert Liberto testified that there were false statements and testimonials on the company's Web site, including the one about federally insured banks giving loans.

Dan Wickline, 61, and son, Chad, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Chad Wickline, 34, also pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.

After court, Chad Wickline would say only that "the system is definitely not what you are taught in school." He then refused to elaborate.

His attorneys, Robert G. Bernhoft and Ross M. Babbitt, who defended actor Wesley Snipes in his tax-evasion trial, declined to comment.

They had fought to keep the plea hearing closed, but Judge Algenon L. Marbley refused.

Sentencing will be held later.

Under terms of his plea agreement, Dan Wickline faces a prison term of 12 to 18 months and three years of supervised release. He must pay taxes, interest and penalties on the money he received and make $229,958 in restitution to victims.

Terms are similar for Chad Wickline, except he faces a sentence of 24 to 30 months and must pay back $388,056 to victims.

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