Michael Parish, the architect of what prosecutors call the largest mortgage fraud scheme in Minnesota history, was sentenced in federal court Thursday to 13 years in prison. His co-conspirators, who included his wife, Ardith, and his son-in-law, Christopher Troup, were sentenced to five years and 10 years, respectively.
All three pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to commit mortgage fraud and money laundering as part of an expansive scheme to obtain fraudulent mortgages through straw buyers for about 200 homes built by Parish Marketing and Development in New Prague, New Market and Lonsdale in recent years.
Rejecting calls for leniency by defense attorneys, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery said their crime wasn't simply a single bad decision. She calculated that the Parish Marketing fraud accounted for damages in those communities of $20 million to $50 million -- in fraudulent mortgages, costs to the cities and the loss of equity for other homeowners.
"One of the things that seems to be particularly aggravating about this situation ... is that this is a situation that went on for years," Montgomery said.
She also rejected defense attorneys' arguments against the amount of damages. Attorneys Peter Wold and Paul Engh had argued that the three could not be blamed for losses fueled more by a national housing crisis than by their own actions.
While other builders in the area slowed development as the real estate market dropped, Parish, 63, accelerated his scheme and kept recruiting straw buyers to prop up the failing enterprise, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon said. The company earned at least $25 million on $100 million in loans that Parish and the others obtained using straw buyers. The company used the money to keep building homes, to make payments on some of the mortgages and to keep the scheme going.
"This wasn't an isolated mistake. This was repeated over and over and over over the years," Dixon said.
"Even when he was confronted with the reality of putting other people in jeopardy of going to jail, he continued going," Dixon added.
Several other defendants, including a banker, a closing agent, an appraiser and a mortgage broker, also have pleaded guilty in the case.
The Parishes and Troup have 10 days to appeal their sentences. After the sentencing, Engh, who represents Ardith Parish, 62, argued that her five-year sentence was "not fair."
"She's lost the love of her life," Engh said of the long sentence given to Michael Parish.
Tom Olsen and Cindy Novak, who own a plumbing company that relied on Parish Marketing for nearly all of its business and is owed more than $250,000, said the sentences won't make their related financial problems go away.
"It really doesn't matter how many years they're getting," Olsen said. "It's not going to help my situation."
Said Novak: "I'd rather they stay out and have to work for the rest of their lives to pay us all back."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428