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By LINCOLN ANDERSON | Donald MacPherson — publisher of the Soho Journal who once mulled a run for Community Board 2 chairperson — pleaded guilty last Wednesday to 45 counts of grand larceny, insurance fraud and other crimes in an elaborate $82 million Hamptons mortgage fraud scam.
Prosecutors described it as the most massive mortgage fraud case in Suffolk County’s history. Up to 60 homes were involved, mostly on Long Island’s East End.
According to the Southampton Press, MacPherson’s trial was set begin on Mon., Nov. 14, two days before he accepted his plea.
In July, former Suffolk Legislator George Guldi pleaded guilty to being part of a five-person mortgage fraud ring along with MacPherson. The five were charged in March 2009 with stealing millions of dollars from lenders between 2002 and 2007.
MacPherson, 68, lives on Varick St. near the Holland Tunnel entrance and also has a home in Westhampton, where he owns Magic’s Pub.
According to Robert Clifford, a spokesperson for the Suffolk district attorney, MacPherson pleaded guilty to 23 counts of grand larceny in the first degree; 11 counts of grand larceny in the second degree; one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree; three counts of insurance fraud in the third degree; and seven counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree.
Clifford said, in return for MacPherson’s plea, Judge James F.X. Doyle indicated that MacPherson’s sentence would have a cap of four to 12 years in jail. According to Newsday, however, the D.A. was unhappy with the sentence, feeling it was too light.
The Southampton Press reported that, in September, MacPherson rejected a plea bargain that would have resulted in him being sentenced to between 28 months and seven years in prison.
He rejected that plea bargain because he maintained his innocence, Steven Wilutis, MacPherson’s attorney, said at the time.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 25. Clifford said MacPherson would likely be incarcerated until then, as is typical in such cases, after which he would be transferred to Downstate Correctional Facility in Hudson Vally, from where he would be transferred to the prison where he’d spend his jail term.
The judge will also determine whether any restitution judgment orders will be filed against MacPherson, and if so, for what amount.
Reached on his cell phone last Thursday and asked for comment on his guilty plea, MacPherson said, “I really can’t discuss any of this. Thanks for calling,” then hung up.
MacPherson’s wife, Carrie Coakley, 41, who was also implicated in the mortgage fraud ring, has not entered a plea and remains charged with first-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud in the first degree, the spokesperson said. Her next court date is Dec. 5.
Coakley — who is a dominatrix, according to the D.A. — is accused of recruiting straw buyers for the scheme at The Dungeon, the Manhattan S&M club where she was in charge. In the end, 17 individuals total were indicted in the scheme.
Newsday reported that it took almost an hour and a half for MacPherson to answer questions last Wednesday about the various ways he swindled banks in properties in Southampton.
He reportedly said he paid the straw buyers a fee of $10,000, assuring them he would make the mortgage payments on a particular house. But he instead retained the mortgage proceeds and allowed the house to go into foreclosure.
Newsday said that MacPherson admitted that he inflated his income and that of his straw buyers, and that he falsely reported that some of the buyers were employed in high-level jobs in companies he owned.
Working with Guldi — who created phony documents to obtain mortgages on about 60 properties — and others, MacPherson admitted he falsified title reports and forged powers of attorney. They engaged in what is known as “title washing” and “mortgage stacking” to make it appear that properties were free of outstanding mortgages and clear of liens and debt.
Guldi, 58, is serving four to 12 years for insurance fraud and mortgage fraud. He was convicted earlier this year of pocketing $853,000 in insurance money after a 2008 fire at his Westhampton Beach home, for which he was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-to-three-year term in the mortgage scam, to run concurrently with the insurance fraud sentence.
Prosecutors were reportedly seeking a sentence for Guldi of up to 25 years in the mortgage scam.
“Mr. Guldi’s greed leaves a trail of financial ruin heretofore unseen in this county,” said Thomas Spota, Suffolk D.A.
The defendants, prosecutors said, either pocketed the proceeds or used the money to acquire additional homes.
MacPherson was a member of Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2 from 2001 to 2008. He seriously considered a run for board chairperson in 2006, but conceded to Maria Passannante-Derr when he saw he didn’t have enough support among the board’s 50 volunteer members to win election.
During his aborted campaign, during which he ran as a reformer, he said, “There are several issues that I think have not been addressed [by C.B. 2]: Air quality in Lower Manhattan, pollution; billboards and the proliferation of signs; the inability to cross a street with a baby carriage without being run over by a truck or an 18-wheeler; and liquor licenses, being ignored by the State Liquor Authority, the saturation of Soho.”
In April 2009, after the story broke about MacPherson’s role in the multimillion-dollar Hamptons S&M mortgage swindle, people at his 80 Varick building stood behind him.
Several residents and a staff member interviewed at that time said MacPherson was a model neighbor who cared about the community and doted on his young children.
“For me, he’s very nice guy,” said handyman Henrik Wyka, 55. He said MacPherson was the building’s biggest tipper — having recently given him $100 for doing a painting job after his work hours.
In halting English, Wyka, a Polish native, indicated, with a shrug, and the words “Madoff,” “$50 billion” and “banks,” that he thought MacPherson’s ripping off what was at the time thought to be $50 million from banks was a trifle compared to Ponzi scammer Bernie Madoff conning 1,000 times that much out of individuals and charitable organizations.
One tenant said, “I know he’s been an advocate for this neighborhood and this building. He was always here for the tenants. They’re just a nice family.”
Others, however, said they worried for MacPherson’s young children, since both he and his wife were facing jail time.