Editor's note: An abbreviated version of this article ran in some editions of Wednesday's Times.
Disbarred Clearwater attorney Graham Kligerman received a 10-year federal prison sentence Tuesday for his role in a mortgage foreclosure rescue fraud conspiracy.
Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ordered Kligerman, 34, to pay $6.5-million in restitution to the long list of loan processors, homeowners, banksand buyers victimized by his real estate scheme.
Kligerman pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bank, wire and mail fraud. He is accused of acting as the closing agent on 57 fraudulent real estate transactions. Banks were misled into making millions of dollars in loans, and homeowners who thought they were saving their homes from foreclosure actually lost them.
Defense attorneys Dennis Hernandez and Eddie Suarez said their client's behavior resulted from mental illness and a failing law practice, not greed. Of the millions in diverted equity, they said Kligerman paid out the vast majority to his law clients and kept only about $150,000.
The judge took issue with the fact that Kligerman managed to pay his own mortgage but had not yet paid any restitution for his crimes, which were committed between 2004 and 2006.
"This court is seeing too many of these types of cases," she said. "There are victims out here who have lost their homes. You should be down on your knees begging for these people to forgive you and do something tangible to make up for what has happened to them.
"They're hurting and you're living comfortably. What's wrong with that picture?"
Kligerman was disbarred in 2005 after he fabricated court documents, forged a Pinellas County judge's signature and diverted money to a client from one of his trust accounts while pretending it was a payment from the defendants.
He must report to federal prison within 45 days. His attorneys hope the sentence will eventually be reduced based on Kligerman's assistance in an ongoing federal investigation into co-conspirators.
"I live with regret every day," Kligerman said. "To anybody who was hurt, and I know there were many of them, I apologize."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.