Case Name: United States of America v. Wood Aston et al
MADISON, WIS. – Scott C. Blader, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Aston Wood, 56, New Richmond, Wisconsin and Miami, Florida, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 12 years in federal prison for a mortgage rescue scheme that defrauded more than 70 Wisconsin homeowners. Wood pleaded guilty to wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud on January 6, 2020.
U.S. Attorney Blader was joined in making the announcement by Robert E. Hughes, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Milwaukee Field Office; Kathy A. Enstrom, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation; Catherine Huber, Special Agent in Charge, Central Region, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General; and Patrick S. Layng, United States Trustee for Region 11.
At the sentencing, Judge Peterson called the defendant a professional conman, said that this was “a particularly heartless crime,” and told the defendant that his crime “stands apart from anything I’ve come across in my six years on the bench.”
Between 2014 and 2019, Wood defrauded more than 70 Wisconsin homeowners out of approximately $390,000. Many homeowners unfortunately lost their homes in connection with the scheme. Using the names ASC Financial, LLC and Maywood Capital II, LLC, Wood solicited people facing the possibility of foreclosure and represented to them that he could help them stay in their home by obtaining loan refinancing or modification. He told customers that to stop foreclosures, they needed to immediately begin making mortgage payments towards a new loan as part of a trial period while he worked out the details of the loan with the mortgage lenders. Wood instructed customers to make these mortgage payments to businesses he controlled under the premise that he would forward the payments to the customers’ mortgage lenders.
Wood was able to collect mortgage payments from homeowners for months, even years, by falsely reassuring them that their payments were going to their mortgage lenders and that new loans were being finalized. In fact, Wood’s bank records confirmed he deposited the customers’ mortgage payments and spent their money on his own travel and living expenses. When customers eventually lost their homes in foreclosure, Wood told them that it was due to the mortgage lenders’ greed or negligence.
Wood defrauded some homeowners out of additional money even after they lost their homes by falsely telling them that he would use the money to help them buy back their foreclosed property or use the money to sue the mortgage companies.
As part of his fraud scheme, Wood advised many customers to file bankruptcy in the Western District of Wisconsin. The automatic stay triggered by the bankruptcy filings temporarily stalled the foreclosures, which extended the time in which Wood could collect the monthly mortgage payments. In November 2016, the U.S. Trustee’s Office began investigating Wood and in October 2017, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine J. Furay issued an injunction permanently barring Wood from soliciting, offering to perform, or performing services relating to mortgage foreclosure and debt relief. Despite the court order, however, Wood continued to engage in mortgage rescue fraud under a new business name.
U.S. Attorney Blader praised the work of the U.S. Trustee’s Office and the law enforcement agents who investigated the criminal case. U.S. Attorney Blader also urged Wisconsin residents to be alert to this type of fraud.
The following are tips to avoid being a victim of mortgage fraud schemes from the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:
Beware of anyone seeking to charge you in advance for mortgage modification services. In most cases, charging fees in advance of a mortgage modification is illegal.
Only your mortgage company has the discretion to grant a loan modification. Therefore, no third party can guarantee or pre-approve your mortgage modification application.
Beware of individuals and companies claiming that your payments should be sent to an alternate contact or address that is different from the information in your mortgage statement.
Beware of individuals or companies that offer money-back guarantees or insist on upfront fees and can only accept payment by cash, cashier's check, or wire transfer.
Beware of private individuals claiming to be affiliated with government-backed refinancing programs.
For additional information, see https://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/get-answers/Pages/get-answers-how-avoid-scams.aspx.
The charges against Wood were the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Office of the United States Trustee. The prosecution of the case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith P. Duchemin.
MADISON, WIS. -- A federal grand jury in the Western District of Wisconsin, sitting in Madison, returned the following indictments today. You are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
New Richmond Man Charged with Mortgage Fraud Scheme
Aston Wood, 55, New Richmond, Wisconsin, is charged with four counts related to an alleged mortgage fraud scheme. The indictment charges that Wood engaged in a scheme to defraud from September 2015 to July 2019. He is charged with one count of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of bankruptcy fraud, and one count of criminal contempt of court.
The indictment alleges that Wood represented to owners of homes in foreclosure that he could help them stay in their home by obtaining refinancing or modification of their mortgage, and that he instructed customers to make monthly mortgage payments towards a new or modified loan in an amount he selected, payable to him or to a limited liability company of which he was the sole member. The indictment alleges that rather than remit the payments to lenders as promised, Wood instead deposited the payments in bank accounts he controlled and used the funds for his own personal expenses.
The indictment further alleges that Wood offered to help some customers buy back their foreclosed property, and he continued to solicit and receive funds from customers or their families based on false representations that the funds would be used to repurchase the property. In addition, the indictment alleges that Wood told some customers to file for bankruptcy to stall foreclosure proceedings, which allowed Wood to delay detection and continue collecting monthly mortgage payments from customers.
The fourth count of the indictment alleges that Wood disobeyed a lawful order of a Court of the United States, an injunction issued on October 24, 2017, by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine J. Furay in the Western District of Wisconsin, which permanently enjoined Wood from soliciting customers, offering to perform, and performing services related to mortgage foreclosure and debt relief.
If convicted, Wood faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on both the wire fraud charge and the mail fraud charge, and five years on the bankruptcy fraud charge. The criminal contempt of court charge has no maximum penalty; the penalty is at the Court’s discretion.
The charges against Wood are the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General. The U.S. Attorney’s Office acknowledges the assistance of the Office of the U.S. Trustee. Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Duchemin is handling the prosecution.
Clark County Man Charged with Methamphetamine Crime
Keith Strong, 49, Thorp, Wisconsin, is charged with possessing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. The indictment alleges that he possessed the methamphetamine on June 30, 2019.
If convicted, Strong faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison. The charge against him is the result of an investigation by the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Chadwick Elgersma is handling the prosecution.
Middleton Man Charged with Distributing Cocaine
Cameron A. Bates, 30, Middleton, Wisconsin, is charged with five counts of distributing cocaine. The indictment alleges that he distributed cocaine on five occasions in July and August 2019.
If convicted, Bates faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on each count. The charges against him are the result of an investigation by the Madison Police Department and the Dane County Narcotics Task Force, with the assistance of the Middleton Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman is handling the prosecution.