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Woks free Dublin man jailed for €3.45m property swindle in US now working as takeaway driver

Documents exclusively obtained by the reveal how the mortgage fraudster was freed early under the 'First Step Act' - in spite of the objections of the prison's warden.

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Patrick Lee delivering Chinese food.

Patrick Lee delivering Chinese food.

Patrick Lee delivering Chinese food.

A fraudster jailed for four years in the US over a property swindle that cost lenders €3.45 million is back in Ireland after securing early release from prison due to Covid-19.

Dubliner Patrick Lee, who now works as a delivery driver for a Chinese takeaway in Kildare, was freed early from Allenwood Correctional Institute in Pennsylvania after a judge accepted he was vulnerable to catching Covid-19 while behind bars.

Documents exclusively obtained by the Sunday World reveal how the mortgage fraudster was freed early under the 'First Step Act' - in spite of the objections of the prison's warden.

The documents further reveal pleadings from family members and a note from the Irish Consulate in New York offering to provide Lee (48) with an emergency passport to facilitate his immediate return home.

Approached by the Sunday World in Kildare last week, Lee told us: "It's great to be home. I'd like to get into it in detail with regard to the Supreme Court and the system here. It's a joke.

"I mean, I should never have been extradited. There was no evidence presented."

When it was pointed out to Lee that he pleaded guilty to two offences arising from a labyrinthine property fraud that cost mortgage lenders in Massachusetts US$3.9m (€3.45m), Lee said he had only pleaded guilty to avoid a long jail sentence.

"That's how the system is set up there," he said.

"If it had went to trial I would have been facing 13 years. My co-accused was acquitted of all charges."

Asked whether he believed he should have been extradited, Lee responded: "Absolutely not."

In 2017, Lee was extradited from Ireland to the US to face charges relating to the mortgage fraud scheme that operated between July 2005 and May 2007.

In November 2018, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and unlawful monetary transaction. The following March, Lee, originally from Dublin but with an address at Newtown, Co. Kildare, was found guilty in a federal court in Boston of charges arising out of a mortgage fraud scheme in the state of Massachusetts.

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He was sentenced to four years in a US prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay compensation of $842,552 (€745,120) to his victims.

In documents released at the time, the US Attorney's Office in Massachusetts revealed in detail the mechanics of the fraud perpetrated by Lee and how he used 'straw-buyers' to game the mortgage system.

A straw buyer is a person who makes a purchase on behalf of another person. The act is only considered illegal if the transaction is fraudulent or the goods are purchased for someone who is legally barred from making the purchase themselves.

"Between July 2005 and May 2007, Lee engaged with others in a mortgage fraud scheme," the documents state.

"Specifically, Lee (or an associate) bought five multi-family buildings in Dorchester and south Boston, financed with fraudulently obtained mortgage loans, and quickly converted the buildings to condominiums which facilitated the resale of individual units in the buildings to straw buyers.

"The straw buyers were recruited for this purpose and their purchases were financed with fraudulently obtained mortgage loans.

"The straw buyers were assured that they would not have to put any money down or pay the mortgages, and that they would get a fee at closing and/or a share of the profits when the properties were sold.

"The loans were funded with interstate wire transfers from the mortgage lenders to the closing attorneys' conveyancing accounts, and the proceeds were then distributed to Lee and/or (an associate), the recruiters, and others involved in the scheme.

"According to the government, mortgage lenders suffered losses of about $3.9 million. Many of the lenders are no longer in business or no longer hold the fraudulent loans at issue."

Lee's sentence was backdated to the date of his incarceration in the US pending trial.

But following the arrival of Covid-19 in the US early last year, Lee filed an emergency motion on April 21, 2020, to reduce his sentence under the First Step Act.

The First Step Act allowed inmates to be released if they were at risk of contracting Covid-19 in prison or if they were considered unlikely to re-offend.

Court documents released by the US Attorney's office show lawyers for Lee claimed that he had an underlying health condition which made him susceptible to contracting Covid-19. Several letters from family members in Kildare are also included in the documents.

These outlined how Lee's absence was causing increased hardship for a named family member, suffering from a disability, in Ireland.

However, a letter from the Warden of Allenwood prison, dated April 16, 2020, to Lee's attorney stated he did not meet the criteria to have his sentence reduced.

In the letter signed by Allenwood Warden DK White, he wrote: "Inmate Lee is 47 years old and as such is not eligible for early release pursuant to policy. After careful review and consideration into all aspects of your request, it has been determined that inmate Lee does not meet any of the required criteria set forth in (the) programme."

The cache of documents released by the US attorney's office also includes a letter from the Irish Consulate in New York.

In the letter, Deputy Consul General Sean Ó hAodha writes: "The Consulate stands ready to furnish Mr Lee with Emergency Travel Documentation to travel to Ireland should this be required."

On April 30, 2020 a motion to allow early release, opposed by the prosecution, was approved for Lee.

US District Court Judge Patti B Saris ruled that Lee could serve the three years of supervised release segment of his sentence at home in Ireland and Lee walked free from Allenwood prison.

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