TAMPA — An Oldsmar businessman pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud conspiracy charges on Wednesday in connection with a Tampa townhouse project.
Richard Cartagena, 43, one of the developers of La Encantada Villas, could face up to five years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill.
Cartagena's Tampa lawyer, Eduardo Suarez, said it's unfortunate that his involvement has cast a shadow on his reputation. Suarez said Cartagena had lived in the community a long time and "has a stellar record as a businessman and as a husband and as a father."
He said Cartagena made an "unfortunate error in judgment."
He "became aware some folks in his organization were doing things they shouldn't be doing and he didn't stop it," Suarez said.
Cartagena was managing member of La Encantada Villas LLC. From May 2007 through July 2008, he conspired with others to commit fraud in transactions involving at least four townhouses in the project on Watrous Avenue, according to his plea agreement filed last month.
He made more than $1 million in those dealings, court records show.
Sentencing should take place within 90 days, O'Neill's office said. Cartagena will have to pay restitution to lenders that are victims.
Several others, including Cartagena's partner, Neil Ferrigno, 49, of Tampa have been sentenced or are scheduled to be sentenced in connection with the investigation, O'Neill's office said.
Ferrigno was sentenced earlier this month to eight months in prison for conspiracy to commit fraud. Bohdan Horbaczuk 66, of Oldsmar, was sentenced in November to nine months in prison for conspiracy to commit fraud.
La Encantada Villas included seven townhouses in historic Hyde Park. Cartagena knew of fraudulent mortgage practices involving at least two of the buyers, O'Neill's office said.
Cartagena founded the Palm Harbor telecommunications firm Nexxtworks Inc. In 2007, Hispanic Business magazine listed it as one of the 500 largest Hispanic-owned companies in the United States.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.