June 18, 2013

N.H. fraud defendant won't enter guilty plea after all

By LYNNE TUOHY / The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire man accused of an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme that prosecutors say bilked distressed homeowners and banks out of about $13 million was set to enter a guilty plea Tuesday, but changed his mind.

Michael Prieto, who worked in Manchester, appeared in federal court for what was docketed as a change of plea on mail fraud and money laundering charges.

But after a half hour delay while he met behind closed doors with his lawyers, defense attorney Michael Iacopino informed the judge that there would be no plea.

Jury selection had been slated to begin Tuesday, but U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe said the panel of prospective jurors had been dismissed once the court received Prieto's notice of his intent to change his plea.

No plea agreement was filed. Before court got under way, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Zuckerman told Prieto and his lawyers, "All deals are off the table and they won't come back."

Prieto and his lawyers would not comment.

Authorities allege Prieto persuaded people who were having difficulty making their mortgage payments to turn their homes over to him, so that they could continue living in the homes as rent-paying tenants. The idea was that they could buy back the homes in two years. But prosecutors say Prieto remortgaged the homes and defaulted on the loans.

Several homeowners affected by the scheme were in court Tuesday but declined to comment.
Prieto also apparently tried to get rid of his court appointed attorneys – Iacopino and Jaye Rancourt – on Tuesday. After a lengthy and closed hearing with only McAuliffe, Prieto and his lawyers present, Prieto confirmed the pair still represent him but would not elaborate.

McAuliffe said Prieto's change of heart "discombobulated" the trial schedule. The trial was scheduled to begin Monday but has been postponed until July 23.

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