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Spring Hill man gets 8 years for phony home inspection reports

Last March, Secret Service agents raided Dean Counce’s office in a nondescript cream-colored warehouse tucked behind a Dollar General Store off Spring Hill Drive, south of Brooksville. 

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Last March, Secret Service agents raided Dean Counce’s office in a nondescript cream-colored warehouse tucked behind a Dollar General Store off Spring Hill Drive, south of Brooksville. 

TAMPA — A Spring Hill man who made millions by fabricating thousands of inspection reports on foreclosed homes is headed to federal prison.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. on Wednesday sentenced Dean Counce to 97 months, or a little more than eight years. Moody also ordered Counce, 42, to pay nearly $12.8 million in restitution to Bank of America.

Counce's Brooksville company, American Mortgage Field Services, contracted with lenders to regularly inspect properties in foreclosure throughout the state. As the housing market imploded, business boomed.

By 2009, Counce was sending as many as 100,000 inspection reports each month to Bank of America, receiving about $6.50 for each. In most cases, the company then billed the federal entities that owned or insured the mortgages.

The problem: As many as 60 percent of the reports were fabricated, court records show.

Bank of America helped investigators build the case.

"We are pleased with the outcome," company spokeswoman Shirley Norton said in an email to the Times.

About 2007, Counce founded a company called Mid-Florida Home Securing. He changed the name two years later to American Mortgage Field Services. The company specialized in residential and commercial property inspections and general home repairs and maintenance, according to its website.

The home inspections required Counce to visit a property, complete a report, take photographs and send the information to the lender. As the housing market sank to new depths, the company couldn't keep up with the volume of inspection requests, so Counce and his staff started fabricating reports, authorities alleged.

When a new request came in, Counce directed his inspectors to visit the property and take a number of photographs, far more than necessary for a single report. He asked other employees — some of them still in high school — to use the photos for subsequent reports.

In other cases, Counce told workers to use information from public websites, such as the local property appraiser's office, to fabricate reports for properties that weren't inspected. Staffers who produced a large number of false reports were often rewarded with cash bonuses.

Bank of America paid the company about $23.5 million over the course of five years. Counce was able to keep overhead so low that he netted between $700,000 and $1 million in a single month, investigators say.

Last March, Secret Service agents raided Counce's office in a nondescript cream-colored warehouse tucked behind a Dollar General Store off Spring Hill Drive, south of Brooksville. He pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

As part of a plea deal, he agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation and testify if necessary. Prosecutors, in turn, did not oppose his request for a prison term on the low end of the sentencing guidelines, which called for 97 to 121 months.

No other arrests have been made in the case.

"This investigation is far from over," Counce's attorney, John M. Fitzgibbons, said after the hearing. He declined to comment further.

It will be up to Bank of America to work out the details of reimbursement with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, which mandated and ultimately paid for the inspection reports, said a U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman.

To help cover the damages, Moody ordered Counce to forfeit some jewelry and two pieces of property on Golddust Road in Spring Hill.

That probably won't make much of a dent in what he owes, though. According to county records, the combined value of the properties is about $214,000.

News researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com (352) 848-1431.

Spring Hill man gets 8 years for phony home inspection reports 02/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:59pm]
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