Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Four arrested, charged in mortgage fraud case

Prosecutors say Orson Benn, 37, approved hundreds of applications that were fake.

Prosecutors say Orson Benn, 37, approved hundreds of applications that were fake.

TAMPA — State law enforcement officials charged four people Tuesday in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme that stretched through Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties.

The scammers gave a lender kickbacks to approve phony mortgages, authorities said. Of 300 loan applications submitted by Tampa-based Sunstate Mortgage Co., investigators say 280 were funded and collectively valued at more than $34-million.

Orson Benn, Constance Golder, David Tuggle Jr., and Eric Steinhauser were arrested and will face prosecution by the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Benn, 37, is the former vice president of the lender, Argent Mortgage Co., and Golder, 31, worked there as an account executive, according to Attorney General Bill McCollum's office. Tuggle and Steinhauser, as the mortgage brokers Sunstate Mortgage, submitted the forged mortgage loan applications to Argent that Benn would approve, McCollum's office said.

Tuggle, 31, and Steinhauser, 29, paid Benn more than $100,000 to approve the loans, and Golder helped served as liaison between Argent and Sunstate Mortgage, the attorney general said.

"Mortgage fraud threatens the very essence of the American dream — the goal of home ownership," McCollum said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Florida ranks first in the nation for the number of mortgage foreclosures, making our citizens who are struggling to protect their homes even more susceptible to fraud."

Multiple local agencies participated in the investigation.

Robert Lee Jordan, 50, and his wife lost their four-bedroom Temple Terrace home and had to move into a two-bedroom apartment because of a Sunstate loan.

When he sought money for home renovations through Sunstate, he said the company forged documents and withheld others from him. His mortgage went from about $680 a month to $1,700.

"What my wife was making and what I was making, we barely could afford to pay that without having to scuffle," Jordan said. "It got to the point where we couldn't do it."

Rather than go into foreclosure, Jordan decided to sell. He said he contacted Sunstate sometime in 2003 or 2004 and gave up fighting to keep his home last September.

"If they're scheming like that, they're supposed to be caught," Jordan said. "It turned my whole life around. We still haven't bounced back from it."

Kevin Jackson, chief investigator with the Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency, said the case against Benn started with a complaint to his office nearly four years ago. Investigators described Argent, a California-based wholesale mortgage company, as "one of the nation's largest subprime lenders."

"We recognize that Orson Benn was overseeing all of Florida for Argent, and there are many brokers we believe who are submitting fraudulent documents or have, and we're going to continue investigating," Jackson said.

Benn was previously charged in a case in Polk County. After that initial investigation, officials began looking at other targets involved in fraud with Benn.

In July 2007, investigators arrested Scott A. Almedia of Lithia and accused him of obtaining mortgages under false pretenses and charged him with racketeering. He was accused of submitting false mortgage documents to Argent and paying off Benn.

Tuesday, Benn was charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, mortgage fraud and grand theft. He could face up to 95 years in prison.

Golder, Tuggle and Steinhauser have been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. They could face up to 30 years in prison.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Four arrested, charged in mortgage fraud case 03/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 3:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]