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Man faces 20 years for swindling Tampa homeowners

TAMPA — Peter Porcelli II, the former owner of the championship fast-pitch softball team the Tampa Bay Smokers, pleaded guilty Thursday after prosecutors said he defrauded homeowners in financial distress for several years.

The plea, filed in federal court, ended a complex case in which Porcelli used two companies he owned to swindle homeowners out of home equity. The result was often a quick default that led to borrowers losing their homes.

Porcelli pleaded guilty to one count of "frauds and swindles," according to court records, which also show that his attorneys reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Details of the agreement and the sentencing date were not made available Thursday night.

The maximum penalty for the charge against him is 20 years in prison, more than $4 million in fines, fees and restitution, and three years of supervised release.

Porcelli had already been sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2007 for running a telemarketing and direct mail company that sold credit-poor consumers fake MasterCards and other services for $159 to $499.

In 2004, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against Porcelli banning him from offering "credit-related products," including loans or financing of any kind.

Two months later, Porcelli opened a company, Safe Harbour Foundation, which billed itself as a nonprofit, although it had none of the necessary documentation, including state and IRS filings.

According to prosecutors, Safe Harbour sent out mailers that enticed people with slogans such as, "Guaranteed solution to stay in your home."

Potential borrowers were then referred to Silverstone Lending, also owned by Porcelli. Silverstone issued 56 "high-cost, interest-only, short-term, balloon payment loans secured by second mortgages or liens" against the borrowers' properties. Then it tacked on fees that amounted to more than 62 percent of the money borrowed, court documents say.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Man faces 20 years for swindling Tampa homeowners 04/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 9:11am]
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