GREENBELT, Md. (March 26, 2021)—A federal criminal complaint has been filed charging Brian Edward Steuart, age 52, of Huntingtown, Maryland, and Jamie Lynn Alford (formerly known as Jamie Lynn Steuart), age 44, of Port Republic, Maryland, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution, in connection with an alleged scheme to siphon off a portion of closing funds they collected while acting as settlement agents in certain real estate transactions. The criminal complaint was filed on March 18, 2021, and was unsealed at the defendant's initial appearance today.
The criminal complaint was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge Mark P. Higgins of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Office of Inspector General (OIG); and Acting Special Agent in Charge Shawn Rice of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Inspector General (OIG).
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Steuart and Alford were husband and wife from June 2008 until September 2017. Beginning in August 2011, Steuart and Alford were settlement agents for Company 1, a title and settlement company located in Prince Frederick, Maryland, which closed real estate transactions for properties in Maryland and Virginia. Steuart and Alford were responsible for closing mortgage loans used to purchase or refinance properties, reviewing property titles, issuing title insurance, facilitating closings, and ensuring that the land records were properly filed and recorded. Steuart and Alford also had a fiduciary duty to all parties involved in each real estate transaction, including to accurately account for, collect, and disburse settlement funds from the seller, the buyer, and the lender, in order to close a transaction.
The affidavit alleges that Steuart and Alford violated their fiduciary duty by embezzling funds from unsuspecting clients during real estate closings from at least 2011 to 2017, from both buyers and sellers, from Company 1, and even from a deceased seller's estate. The fraud was typically accomplished by inflating or inventing various fees or taxes, creating false entries in settlement documents, and creating forged or altered checks. Steuart and Alford allegedly wrote checks to themselves, wrote checks payable to each other, or were jointly made the payee on checks. The affidavit alleges that the defendants deposited the fraudulently obtained funds directly into joint accounts for the benefit of both of them.
According to the affidavit, in order to conceal their fraudulent activities from individuals inside and outside Company 1, Steuart and Alford falsified the settlement statements and altered or fabricated bank statements. The fabricated bank statements allegedly had beginning and ending balances that were significantly lower than the true amounts according to the actual bank records. In addition, information such as the date or amount for deposits, withdrawals, credits, or checks were allegedly also inaccurate and there were checks added or missing in some of the fabricated statements.
As detailed in the affidavit, between 2011 and 2017 Steuart received a total of $735,825.63 from Company 1—both lawfully and unlawfully. However, he allegedly reported his salary to the State of Maryland for that time period to be only $208,168.50. Between 2011 and 2016 Alford allegedly received a total of $653,537.91 from Company 1 for all sources—both lawful and unlawful. However, she allegedly reported her salary to the State of Maryland for that time period to be only $302,462.50.
If convicted, Steuart and Alford each face a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for wire fraud affecting a financial institution. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. At today's initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan ordered that the defendants be released pending trial.
A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the FHFA OIG and the HUD OIG for their work in the investigation and thanked the Calvert County Sheriff's Office, the Maryland State Police, and the Anne Arundel County Police Department for their assistance. Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Morgan and Erin B. Pulice, who are prosecuting the case.