Borough man pleads guilty in mortgage fraud case

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HARTFORD — A Naugatuck man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to charges of participating in a mortgage fraud scheme that lasted a decade and cost lenders $7 million.

Robert Ilunga, 48, worked with two New York residents, Winston and Marleen Shillingford, to obtain fraudulent mortgages they used to buy more than 40 multifamily homes in Bridgeport, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

From 2001 to last August, the three and others recruited “straw buyers” to purchase the properties with no intent of living there, according to federal prosecutors. The proceeds from their mortgages went into the bank account for Waikele Properties Corp., a real estate company based in Bridgeport and Garden City, N.Y., which Ilunga and the Shillingfords ran, according to prosecutors. The money was then transferred directly to Ilunga, the Shillingfords and others, according to prosecutors.

Those involved in the scheme acted as the buyers’ real estate agents and applied for the mortgage loans, according to federal prosecutors.

The loan applications contained false information about the buyers’ finances and property ownership, as well as false supporting documents, such as letters from invented employers, earnings statements and bank records, according to prosecutors. Some applications went to banks receiving federal bailout funds, according to prosecutors.

Several of the buyers never occupied the homes as their primary residences, as they claimed they would on loan applications, and defaulted on their loans, according to prosecutors.

Ilunga pleaded guilty in Hartford to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 5 and faces a maximum prison term of 40 years. He has been detained until his sentencing.

The government is also seeking to claim 20 properties in Bridgeport and more than $26,000 seized from a Waikele Properties bank account.

Winston and Marleen Shillingford also await sentencing after pleading guilty to the same charges.

The case is still being investigated by federal officials, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.