post-gazette.com | April 29, 2015
By Torsten Ove
An appraiser from Collier was sentenced today to 42 months in federal prison in mortgage fraud schemes involving two properties and three banks.
After a two-day sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry imposed that term on James Lignelli, 59, and ordered him to pay $300,000 in restitution to the lenders he ripped off by preparing false appraisals.
Lignelli was found guilty of bank fraud at trial last summer, although the jury acquitted him on counts of bank and wire fraud conspiracy.
Federal prosecutors said he provided inflated appraisals for loan applications in two schemes.
The first involved Michael Pope, operator of Pope Financial Services, and Tiffany Sprouts, who ran Sprouts Mortgage. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway said at trial that Lignelli prepared fake appraisals with the co-conspirators for a property in Peters, which was sold for $1.2 million.
In a second scheme, Mr. Conway said Lignelli worked with Michael Staaf, operator of Beaver Financial Services, and prepared a fake appraisal for a property on Perry Highway in the North Hills.
Lignelli and his lawyer argued that he was a dupe for the others, who he said had supplied him with false information about the properties. In trying to avoid jail, he also said he had already been punished because he's lost his career and reputation.
But Mr. Conway said Lignelli was no dupe, but a white-collar crook who knew exactly what he was doing. In addition, he said Lignelli deserves no breaks because he was a trained, intelligent professional appraiser who deliberately inflated appraisals. In addition, he said, the relatively small group of appraisers in Pittsburgh need to realize that fraud will be punished by jail.
"Over at least a four-year period, [Lignelli] was faced with a decision over and over again – should I do another fraudulent appraisal for Pope and/or Staaf?," Mr. Conway asked in pre-sentencing filings. "Time and time again, the defendant, motivated by greed, answered that question 'yes' and engaged in the repeated fraudulent conduct."
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