Defendant sentenced for involvement in real estate scheme

By Paolo Cisneros

A third defendant has been sentenced to 97 months in federal prison for his involvement in a real estate “flipping” scheme that involved properties in Springfield and Decatur.

Frank Kelly Ciota, 47, of Riverton, Ill. pled guilty to one count of bank fraud, one count of wire fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He will begin serving his term on Jun. 27. An additional hearing will be held May 15 to determine the restitution that is to be paid to the victims of the scheme.

Co-defendant Gary Knox, 61, of Decatur was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison last week. A third defendant, Dennis Wiese, Jr., 39, of Belleville, is scheduled for sentencing on May 2.

The three men made false representations to clients, including fraudulently inflated appraisals by Wiese that were used by Knox and Ciota to entice owners to sell, buyers to purchase, and lender to finance rental properties that were being sold for much more than they were worth. In total, the three coconspirators made more than 150 fraudulent real estate sales from 1999 to 2005.

Each of the three defendants pled guilty to their roles in the scheme, which involved Knox and Ciota obtaining upwards of $3 million for promoting the scheme while Wiese received $350 to $450 for each appraisal.

Ciota is not a licensed real estate broker or salesperson and admitted that relatives were among his victims.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also provided assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass is prosecuting the case.