Mark Ashmore, Mortgage Scammer Whose Case Launched Pierce Commercial Bank Investigation, Gets Six-Year Sentence

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In the wake of a world-shattering economic meltdown, the feds are looking for culprits. In November, President Barack Obama established a financial fraud task force. The result of one of the task force's local cases came in on Friday when Mark Ashmore--real-estate scammer, high-liver, and the catalyst for an even larger, still-ongoing investigation into mortgage fraud at Pierce Commercial Bank--received a six-year sentence.

Ashmore was one of many shady characters who tried to capitalize on the real-estate bubble. A onetime Amway salesman, according to federal prosecutor Nicholas Brown, he set himself up as an independent real-estate "investor" some 10 years ago. He lived in Bellevue and ran his business out of his home.

That business, according to court documents, consisted of recruiting straw buyers to buy homes for inflated prices, then flipping the homes for even more inflated prices. The straw buyers would be named on mortgage applications replete with all kinds of false information.

What kind of poor saps would agree to risk their credit and reputations by being Ashmore's straw buyer? Undoubtedly those who yearned for the good life Ashmore seemed to epitomize. He held "Hummer Happenings"--a lifestyle event for Hummer owners, like Ashmore himself-- on one of his properties. That's where he met one straw buyer who worked for a car dealership, according to Brown.

Ashmore was the last of four co-defendants in the case, all charged with wire fraud, to be sentenced. His cohorts got off comparatively lightly, with sentences ranging from eight to 16 months. Ashmore, however, "was the primary actor behind this scheme," said U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones as he handed down the six-year sentence.

Yet the case of one of the co-defendants, Chris DiCugno, is arguably even more noteworthy. He was Ashmore's inside man at the bank that frequently funded these fraudulent deals: Tacoma-based Pierce Commercial. As the feds began investigating DiCugno, they discovered that his actions were far from isolated at the bank. In particular, the feds zeroed in on the head of Pierce Commerical's home-lending division, a remarkably prolific loan originator named Shawn Portmann.

As Seattle Weekly related in a January cover story on Portmann, the feds filed a court document last July asserting that more than half of the loans brokered by Portmann during his tenure at the bank were fraudulent. Yet still no indictment has come. Emily Langlie, spokesperson for the Seattle U.S. Attorney's office, says she can't comment.

In the meantime, Ashmore's case gives some indication of the type of sentence Portmann might face if he is indeed ever hauled before a judge.

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