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Niles Man Charged in Mortgage Fraud Scheme

Prosecutors accuse him and 6 other defendants of defrauding lenders of $750,000.

A Niles man is among seven defendants arraigned in what the Cook County State's Attorney's Office characterized as "an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme."

Brent Bickhaus, 50, of the 6900 block of West Oakton in Niles, faces one count each of conspiracy to commit a financial crime, financial institution fraud and money laundering.

State's Attorney Anita Alvarez' office said that Bickhaus and Gayle Tracy set up a trust that was at the tip of the scheme. Two other individuals, Catherine Demwood and Frances McCormick, shopped for three residential properties and acted as straw buyers, or frontmen, on behalf of the trust.

A straw buyer is a blanket term for a buyer who makes a purchase on behalf of someone else.

Lorenzo Crooks then prepared fake financial documents that were used to attain three loans from legitimate lenders. Richard Simmons acted as the real estate agent involved in all the transactions, though prosecutors say he has no real estate license.

A seventh person, Mark Schwarzbach, acted as the closer in finalizing the transactions.

According to prosecutors, the defendants are alleged to have constructed a scheme to persuade lenders to provide funding for the home purchases. The defendants then split the proceeds from the property sales through a series of complex financial transactions. No mortgage payments were ever made. 

The alleged schemes involved three homes in the Englewood and Back of the Yard neighborhoods of Chicago. The Cook County's State's Attorney's Office said about $750,000 was defrauded by the defendants in the transactions.

The attorney's office has a mortgage fraud unit that worked on the case with investigators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the U.S. Marshall's office.

Bond was set at $75,000 for Bickhaus and went as high was $200,000 for the other defendants, according to a press release from the county prosecutors.

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