Monday March 4, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Vernon resident stands accused of identity theft and using those identities to fraudulently collect unemployment compensation.

According to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Florida, Denny Ray Hughes, 40, has been charged with nine counts of wire fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to documents filed with the federal court in Florida, Hughes created a corporation in 2008, Mortgage Relief America, and then obtained personal information of 21 people, classifying them as employees.

Later, Hughes classified the 21 individuals as being laid off and filed with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Unemployment Compensation Program over the Internet or by phone, stating the 21 people had previously worked for his corporation.

According to the documents, Hughes then fraudulently applied for unemployment compensation funds and had the money deposited in an account he created for that purpose. Court documents do not state how much money he allegedly stole from the state of Florida.

It is unclear what his connection to Vernon is.

Vernon Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert said she could not comment on the case.

Marc Anton, assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Florida said he could not comment on any ongoing investigation being conducted by his office.

A phone call to an agent from the U.S. Department of Labor, which conducted the search of Hughes’ home in Vernon, was not returned.

According to his blog at dennyhughesblogspot.com, Hughes grew up in Fort Lauderdale but spent a couple of years in Boston working for a dot.com. Hughes wrote that he moved back to Fort Lauderdale and began rehabbing homes before obtaining his real estate and mortgage broker’s licenses.

Mortgage Relief America specialized in negotiating with lenders to lower monthly mortgage payments for homes by restructuring loans with lenders to give borrowers lower interest rates, according to Dmitry Rashnitsov, writing for Examiner.com.

MRA charged about $2,000 for the service, according to Rashnitsov, who also noted records from the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations, indicate Hughes had registered 26 different companies relating to mortgages or real estate.

Hughes has also been charged with a number of felonies in Broward County, Florida, including one count of organized fraud, six counts of second degree grand theft and three counts of third degree grand theft.

Those charges are related to a 2009 arrest after law enforcement investigated a complaint against Hughes in which he was accused of stealing more than $50,000 from a former client.

Hughes, then of Wilton Manors, Florida, received payments through his company, Hughes Group Real Estate Services, to help his client purchase a house. According to court documents, the client paid Hughes $50,000 with the understanding that the money was to be held in an escrow account and presented at the time of closing. But Hughes never showed up for the closing and after repeated attempts by the client to recoup his funds, a police complaint was filed.

According to documents obtained through the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office, eight other people were also victimized by Hughes.

Hughes engaged in "a systematic ongoing course of conduct with the intent to defraud (his victims). Defendant did this by representing the victims in their attempt to purchase real estate and in doing so obtained from each various amounts of money ... Eventually those accounts were depleted of all funds by the defendant without any of the money being used towards the victims’ purchase of homes and without any of the money being returned to the victims; thus appropriating the money for his own use ..."

All told, Hughes stole $234,780 from his nine victims, according to the documents.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.