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Five on trial in mortgage fraud ring
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Five people arrested in 2006, as part of a mortgage fraud ring, are scheduled to go to trial this week in Newton County Superior Court for charges of racketeering and mortgage fraud.

Tracey Dionne Moore, 41, of Covington, Royal Homes builder Wayne Keith Mixon, 49, of Athens, broker Wendell T. Higgs, 45, of Suwanee, appraiser Trudy Jacek, 62, of Chamblee and Fred Odomes, 36, of Austell each face one count under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and eight counts of residential mortgage fraud. Moore is also charged with attempting to elude a police officer.

Three homes in Newton County were tied to the ring - 30 Polly Court, 55 Harvey Avenue and a home on Lake Lucinda Drive - with possibly more homes in other metro-Atlanta counties, as well.

Authorities began investigating in February 2006 after an Alpharetta man reported his identity had been stolen and used for a $500,000 mortgage on a home he did not purchase. The house at 30 Polly Court, for which the victim had inadvertently received a closing package in the mail, was built by Royal Homes and initially listed at $394,900 in 2004.

At least 10 people connected to the ring were subsequently arrested in the following months. Higgs was also indicted along with 19 other people in 2006 by a federal grand jury for a mortgage fraud scam in Fulton County.

Georgia came in sixth last year on the list of top 10 states for reported mortgage frauds, according to the Mortgage Asset Research Institute - an improvement over the first or second rank it received in past years. The state was also one of the first to specifically define mortgage fraud as a crime under the 2005 Georgia Residential Fraud Act.

Nationwide, reports of suspicious activity related to mortgage fraud jumped 31 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Federal authorities recently announced the arrest of more than 400 people nation-wide in a three-month mortgage fraud crackdown, dubbed Operation Malicious Mortgage. The impact of the frauds in the last three months is estimated at more than $1 billion, according to the FBI.

As part of that sweep, seven people in Georgia, including a closing attorney from Ellenwood, an IRS employee from Lithonia, a Wachovia Bank employee and mortgage brokers, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the falsely-inflated sale of rooms in a DeKalb County complex, according to a report in the Augusta Chronicle.