Estate scammer sentenced for ‘flipping’ scheme, fraud

By Eric Anderson

Frank Kelly Ciota, Riverton, Ill., the second of a criminal trio involved in a real estate “flipping scheme,” was sentenced to a term of 97 months in prison. According to a press release by the Department of Justice, Ciota pleaded 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. The sentence was delivered Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Michael P. McCuskey.

Gary Knox, 61, was the first of the trio to be sentenced. Last week, Knox was sentenced to 235 months in prison.

“(Knox’s longer sentence) had more to do with his role as an organizer or leader in the conspiracy and the fact that he had prior criminal history,” said Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice. Knox had been convicted in 1992 on similar federal charges.

Paul said that Knox is in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls. He motioned to withdraw his guilty plea, but was unsuccessful.

“During the time since he was charged and detained, (the U.S. Marshalls) rents bed space at various county jails around the district,” Paul said.

Dennis Wiese, Jr., 39, is scheduled for sentencing May 2.

The three defendants each pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme that involved more than 150 fraudulent real estate sales. They financed transactions of more than $8 million from 1999 to 2005 in Springfield and Decatur.

The criminals admitted to “flipping,” a practice in which Wiese fraudulently inflated real estate appraisals so that Knox and Ciota could entice sales at higher than reasonable prices. Multiple government organizations including the FBI investigated the case.

On average, Paul said federal inmates serve 85-87 percent of their time. She added that inmates can shave off about 50 days a year off their sentences for good behavior.

Ciota, 47, will report to prison on June 27.