Thursday June 6, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A man who was living in Vernon at the time of his arrest has agreed to plead guilty to stealing the identities of nearly two dozen people to illegally collect unemployment insurance.

In total, Denny Ray Hughes, 40, collected $219,970 from the state of Florida and $70,524 from Massachusetts.

Hughes had been charged with nine counts of wire fraud and three counts aggravated identity theft and has been held without bail since his arrest in Vernon in early March. He agreed to plead guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud and one count of identity theft and could spend up 20 years in federal prison, depending on the final sentencing decision from the presiding judge. He also could be fined up to $500,000. His sentencing date has not yet been set.

In addition, Hughes has agreed to make full restitution for the money he defrauded out of the two states. Hughes still has state charges pending against him in Florida on unrelated charges.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, it’s unclear if Hughes had any connection to anyone in the town of Vernon. A spokesman said it appeared that he just happened to be living there when he was arrested.

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.


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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.

Hughes conducted a similar operation in Massachusetts, using a fictitious company under the name of Commonwealth Global Corp.

Hughes grew up in Fort Lauderdale but spent a couple of years in Boston working for a dot.com. He then moved back to Fort Lauderdale and began rehabbing homes before obtaining his real estate and mortgage broker’s licenses.

According to documents filed in the Florida state case against Hughes, 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, charging about $2,000 for the service.

State charges include 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.

According to court documents, 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.