Mortgage fraud linked to marijuana trafficking cases
Posted on April 21, 2010 12:00 AM EST
Not if things were bad enough for lenders linked to fraud, but the lenders are now also being sought for marijuana trafficking or grow house cases. While federal prosecutors and the Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force have been building mortgage fraud
cases against lenders in the Miami and South Florida area, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office has been gathering enough evidence to charge the lenders with conspiracy to traffic in marijuana. The attorney for the sheriff's office revealed that evidence exists showing the lenders knew that the fraudulent loans would be used to purchase homes to be used as marijuana grow houses. According to sources, 39 cases have investigated and are ready for prosecution, while 20 others are still being investigated. The marijuana charges will be filed against both lenders and banks. While marijuana possession
is misdemeanor, marijuana trafficking is first degree felony.
According to reports, all of the loans used in purchasing the homes used to cultivate marijuana originated with lenders in Miami. The lenders and banks can be legally charged with conspiracy although they never actively participated in operating the grow houses and manufacturing and cultivating the marijuana. Prosecutors without hard evidence, will be hard pressed to show that the lenders and banks had knowledge of the fact the loans were being used to purchase homes with the intent to grow marijuana. Attorneys charged with defending the lenders will have to show that the prosecution cannot prove knowledge on the part of those accused of providing the monies.
Since 2006, Highlands County has taken down approximately 90 grow houses. The majority of the defendants arrested were from Miami and the South Florida area. Along with arrests, asset forfeitures
are certainly to follow. The houses, their contents, including furnishings, power sources, cash and firearms were seized as part of the busts. The police will attempt to keep anything of value and issue forfeiture notices to the owners of the property. Law enforcement authorities claim that they have put an end to grow house operations in Highlands County, although they admit that may have missed a couple of well-hidden ones. They believe the individuals involved in marijuana trafficking may have to the northern parts of Florida or out of the state altogether.
The increased penalties for marijuana trafficking and the constant pressure placed on the growers have purportedly helped curtail the problem. Any arrested for marijuana trafficking (marijuana possession in excess of 25 pounds), faces a three year mandatory prison sentence. There are dozens of defenses to those charged with owning or operating a marijuana grow house. Many times, detectives do not obtain search warrants and attempt to gain access through consent to search. Experienced criminal defense law firms know that many times the consent obtained by the police is coerced, and therefore not voluntary. Examples are when the police threaten to arrest wives and girlfriends if consent is not granted. Another tactic employed is when they threaten to have the Department of Children and Family Services take the children away. In any event, if the consent is coerced and the search is conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the evidence will be suppressed and the prosecution will have to dump the case. Always remember, if the police ever seek consent to search an automobile or home, refuse unless they get a warrant.
Grow House Cases Enter Phase Two, TBO.com, April 19, 2010.