Another scammer admits guilt

Orland man pleads guilty in Chico mortgage-fraud case

An Orland man pleaded guilty last Friday, Jan. 28, in a Sacramento federal court to charges of mail fraud and money laundering in connection to the Chico-based mortgage scam uncovered last year.

That swindle involved local home builder Tony Symmes, owner of Aspire Homes, who according to court documents sold some 62 new homes at inflated prices to straw buyers. Symmes, one of the most prolific builders in Chico, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges last May and has reportedly cooperated with the federal investigation since.

The most recent plea came from 38-year-old Shane Burreson, who was president of a Chico company called Nor Cal Innovative Investments, which also went by the name of Creative Funding Consultants. Along with co-defendant Garrett Gililland III, Burreson was accused of recruiting investors, straw buyers and others to purchase houses built by Symmes and those from another local builder, William Baker.

Symmes and Baker would reportedly rebate a significant portion of the inflated purchase price back to the buyer or the buyer’s agent. The rebates were concealed from the lenders and appraisers, and lenders financed 100 percent of the inflated purchase price. Gililland and Burreson maintained a joint account at Tri-Counties Bank.

Gilliland, who is awaiting trial behind bars in Sacramento following his extradition from Spain in 2009, and other Nor Cal Innovative Investment employees allegedly would then falsify loan applications with fictitious employment information, nonexistent employers and exaggerated incomes.

Burreson, who was also the owner of an Orland company called Nutri-Sport, faces up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud and 10 years for money laundering and a $250,000 fine. He is scheduled for sentencing on April 15.

The scheme was first uncovered by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies began stumbling across foreclosed homes with indoor marijuana grows. The Butte County District Attorney’s Office stepped in and began an investigation into a complex scam that eventually moved beyond the DA’s jurisdiction.

“It was one piece at a time,” said District Attorney Mike Ramsey of his investigators during an interview last summer. “They slowly started putting it together, and once it got beyond our borders, both county and then state, we said we needed to get the feds involved.”

Symmes, who’s been out of jail on his own recognizance, is scheduled for sentencing on April 29, but that date is contingent upon the upcoming trials of Gililland and eight others involved in the scandal, said Lauren Horwood, a public information officer for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Those other defendants include Nicole Magpusao, the mother of Gililland’s children. Both parents remain in custody.

Others facing trial in connection with the case include Baker, Christopher Chiavola, Niche Fortune and Kesha Haynie and Brandon Resendez, who are all Butte County residents currently out on bail.

An Elk Grove man, Remy Heng, whom Gililland referred to as his “unofficial banker,” is accused of stuffing $20,000 into a Pringles potato-chip container and sending it to Gililland while he was in Spain. FBI agents intercepted the container, removed the cash and sent it along empty. Heng, too, is out on bail and set for an April 15 court appearance.

Like many of the others, Symmes also faces up to 20 years in prison, but his cooperation with investigators reportedly could greatly reduce that sentence.

It is estimated the 62 Symmes houses sold for a total of $21 million. Thirty-eight of those houses went into foreclosure and 10 others were subject to short sales. Symmes has paid $4 million toward restitution in the case.

Last June, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder brought national attention to Chico when he mentioned the case during a press conference in Washington, D.C., about the federal government’s efforts to crack down on widespread mortgage fraud.

“This scheme inflated prices on other homes in the area, creating artificially high comparable sales and affecting the overall new-home market,” Holder told the Washington press.