Benton Man, John Bingaman, Pleads Guilty to Mortgage Fraud Conspiracy in New Jersey

A Benton man, John T. Bingaman, has pleaded guilty to playing the role of "straw purchaser" in a mortgage fraud prosecuted in federal court in New Jersey.

Bingaman, 44, waived indictment and pleaded guilty on Sept. 12 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A New Jersey man, Paul Watterson, 53, similarly pleaded guilty in the case.

Bingaman is a licensed insurance agent and was employed by USAble Life of Little Rock until he resigned "several weeks ago," company spokesman Andrew Moreau said. The charges against him in New Jersey "had nothing to do with our company," Moreau said.

In a conspiracy that lasted from December 2006 through March 2008 and included at least four other parties who were not charged, Bingaman and Watterson set out to profit from the sale and repurchase of condominiums by obtaining mortgages using fraudulent loan documentation.

Bingaman, whose home phone number in Benton has been disconnected, purchased three condominiums in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, Oceanside communities in the Cape May area of southern New Jersey. The three condos were priced at between $559,000 and $735,000 each, for a total of $1.95 million, even though "Bingaman lacked the financial resources to qualify for a mortgage loan" for the properties, according to the information filed by federal prosecutors.

Bingaman was promised money back at closing and that he would not have to pay deposits or closing costs.

Depending on false information about Bingaman's employment, income and assets, mortgages were funded by National Bank of Arizona, Accredited Home Lenders of South Carolina and Washington Mutual Bank of California. Of the loan proceeds, Bingaman was paid kickbacks that totaled $241,790 — an amount that Bingaman agreed to repay.

The kickback payments were made by check to a company that Bingaman incorporated in Arkansas in January 2007, Fivestone Development Corp. It has since been dissolved.

All three loans subsequently went into default.

Bingaman is to be sentenced in New Jersey on March 14, and the sentencing guideline for his crime calls for a federal prison sentence of 24 to 30 months.

Until then, he has been ordered to limit his travel to New Jersey and Arkansas, although he was granted permission to attend a photography workshop in Wyoming.