Michael Staaf, 42, of 115 Hilton Drive pleaded guilty to money laundering and wire fraud charges in November and was sentenced Monday in Pittsburgh to 10 years imprisonment and five years on supervised released, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton’s office.
Staaf is the former owner of Beaver Financial Services in Vanport Township. Court records show that family and friends wrote glowing letters to U.S. Judge David S. Cercone asking him to show leniency toward Staaf.
“Michael has a good heart and the best of intentions,” wrote Staaf’s ex-wife, Amy Staaf, who called him “a good man and a GREAT father” to their two young children.
Staaf’s own letter to the judge included an apology for his actions. “It is not becoming of me to harm others; I have spent my life trying so hard to be a constructive influence to those around me,” he wrote.
At the end of his letter, Staaf told Cercone he was ready to face his punishment “but, I must ask, I must plead, but please don’t take me away from my children.”
Those letters portray a totally different man than the one prosecutors said orchestrated a “massive fraud scheme” with his co-defendants involving “tens of millions of dollars” using mostly commercial properties.
Prosecutors said Staaf would obtain loans and buy properties through businesses he controlled via employees, and then have fraudulent appraisals done on the properties overstating their value.
Also, commercial properties already owned by a Staaf business would be sold to another company he controlled at “highly elevated prices” using fraudulent loan applications and documents.
Staaf, prosecutors said, told agents at U.S. Settlement Services to direct money to him to pay liens, but Staaf deposited that money into several bank accounts he controlled.
And, Staaf altered invoices to make it appear as if improvements had been made to properties used as collateral for loans, prosecutors said.
“Basically, nothing was in Staaf’s name, but all of the money eventually went to his benefit,” stated Hickton’s release, which also said Staaf used shell corporations and other means to try and hide the trail of fraud.
Five other people, including three Beaver County residents, have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.
William Buchko, 60, of 1524 Second St., New Brighton, pleaded guilty to bank fraud last year and was ordered in June to spend one day in prison followed by three years on supervised release.
Ralph Esposito, 46, of 704 North Ave., Brighton Township, and Courtney Hower, 27, of 1327 Pacific Ave., Monaca, each pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy last year and face sentencing April 20.
In October, James Lignelli, 57, of 1010 St. Mellion Drive, Collier Township, was indicted on three counts of bank fraud and single counts of bank fraud conspiracy and wire and bank fraud conspiracy after a grand jury determined he did fraudulent appraisals, including two for Staaf on office buildings at 993 Brodhead Road, Moon Township, and 8150 Perry Highway, McCandless Township.
Lignelli is awaiting trial, according to court records.
Written By- J.D. Prose
Compiled By Mortgage Fraud Consultant-Chip Cummings-Mortgage Fraud Expert