Four senior executives of a Grapevine real estate development lender were convicted on Friday in what government prosecutors described as a multi-year scheme to deceive investors, banks and regulators.
United Development Funding CEO Hollis Greenlaw, Chairman Benjamin Wissink, CFO Cara Delin Obert and Asset Management Director Jeffrey Brandon Jester were found guilty by a jury in Fort Worth of 10 counts, including securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud affecting a financial institution.
The verdict followed five days of trial testimony and more than 12 hours of deliberation. Each leader faces up to 25 years in federal prison and is expected to appeal their conviction.
“We will continue to prove the innocence of these brave people in court and on appeal,” said Greenlaw attorney Paul Pelletier. “We reject any suggestion that the affairs of the UDF have been conducted improperly in any way and we will continue to fight to expose the truth.”
Federal prosecutors said the convictions ended a years-long review of UDF investment funds.
“UDF leaders moved money from one fund to another without disclosing the mix to investors or regulators,” U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham said in a statement. “After a long battle, justice has been served.”
The UDF case dates back to 2016 when the FBI raided the company’s Grapevine offices and seized records. It came after Dallas-based investor Kyle Bass, Hayman Capital Management, raised concerns about the company’s operations, calling it a “Ponzi scheme” and shorting its shares. Bass later said he made over $30 million from his UDF trades.
The UDF used five funds to invest in residential real estate projects, providing loans to private developers and builders. When promoters failed to repay money borrowed from one fund, prosecutors said UDF leaders would transfer money from another fund in order to pay investors in the original fund.
The UDF used about $65 million in investor money from 2011 to 2015 to pay investors from a previous fund, according to an indictment in October. In 2014 and 2015, the indictment said the UDF used $7.4 million from investors in one fund to pay for another fund.
The company paid an $8.2 million fine in 2018 in a related civil case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations.