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Fraudster-turned-informant spared prison term

A mortgage fraudster who spent six years working as an FBI mole broke down in tears Tuesday as he was spared prison by a federal judge who said “I don’t see it doing any good.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said Mhde Askar, 28, “was as much a victim as anyone” involved in the $7 million mortgage scam, describing Askar’s cooperation with authorities as “truly extraordinary.”

Sentencing Askar instead to three years of court supervision, the judge called the older con men who roped a young Askar into the fraud scheme “reprehensible.”

Askar was an 18-year-old high school student when he got involved in the mortgage fraud, which involved filing false loan applications on behalf of straw buyers for high-end condos. Nabbed four years later in 2008, he immediately confessed and began cooperating with the feds.

But he was only finally unmasked as an informant in March, when prosecutors charged Ald. Howard Brookins’ chief of staff Curtis V. Thompson Jr. with accepting a bribe — a sting Askar set up and secretly recorded.

Askar’s attorney Jeffrey Steinback said Tuesday that the feds asked Askar to speak to 79 or 80 individuals involved in as many as 40 investigations during the course of his cooperation.

That cooperation went far beyond implicating his co-defendants in the mortgage fraud, Steinback said. At the feds’ request, Askar “cold called” targets for investigation and even took vocational classes to help insinuate himself with dirty businessmen he had never met, Steinback said.

In one case that has yet to lead to charges, Askar won the trust of “an organization known for its thuggery” and made secret recordings “with full knowledge of the risk to himself,” Steinback said.

Steinback said Askar was motivated by his “conscience” and his need to “make it right,” especially after his arrest embarrassed his family at their mosque, set back his two brothers’ police careers and caused one of his brothers’ fiancees to break off an engagement.

Askar had not at first known the mortgage scheme was a fraud and was only trying to make money to help his immigrant parents, who were struggling, Steinback said.

Prosecutor Diane McArthur agreed that the “extent and nature of that cooperation has been extraordinary,” adding that he had “tried to make the best of the situation” after he was caught.

She suggested a sentence of 27 months — just 35 percent of the 87 months federal guidelines suggested — was appropriate.

But in a tearful apology, Askar then told the judge “this has been a dreadful journey every step of the way. ... I’m filled with humiliation and embarrassment.”

And Gettleman said that in 20 years on the bench he’d never heard a prosecutor be more complimentary of a defendant’s efforts to come clean than in Askar’s case.

“I don’t see how sending you to prison would anybody any good at all, and I’m not going to do so,” he said.

In addition to ordering three years of court supervision, the judge also imposed mental health counseling for Askar and imposed a mandatory restitution of $7 million to the banks Askar helped defraud.

Askar, who lives with his parents and has a net worth of just $243, according to his attorney, will likely have to pay 10 percent of his income for the rest of his life to satisfy the restitution.

Referring to the role of the banks in the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, Gettleman told Askar, “You’re going to be spending a lot of your life working for the lenders that, at least in my view, bear some responsibility.”

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews



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