Cape real estate broker enters plea agreement
A Cape Coral real estate broker has entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors over fraud allegations tied to a 1990 land trust.
Gregory Wayne Eagle, owner and president of Eagle Realty of Southwest Florida, will plead guilty to four counts of bank fraud and one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud in connection to the Pine Island 101 Land Trust.
“Mr. Eagle has entered into a plea agreement,” Amy Filjones of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said Tuesday.
The agreement was filed Thursday in the district court.
“His change of plea hearing has not yet been scheduled,” she said, adding that Eagle’s sentencing hearing had also not been set as of Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Michelland is handling the case.
“At this point, we can’t offer any comment,” Filjones said.
Defense attorney Wilbur Smith III is representing Eagle.
Smith did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
According to the court documents, each count is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, without parole, a fine of up to $1 million or twice the gross gain or gross loss, and a term of supervised release of up to five years.
Nearly 23 years ago, Eagle created a trust agreement for 52 named combined beneficiaries for a property consisting of about 101 acres of unimproved land along Pine Island Road. Eagle was named the trustee.
In 2002, Eagle obtained a mortgage loan for $2 million from the Florida Community Bank. He allegedly claimed that he had full power to mortgage the land and all the beneficiaries consented to the granting of the mortgage.
The trust beneficiaries were not aware that Eagle had mortgaged the property and had not given their authorization to Eagle, as trustee.
In 2005, he received an extension on the loan under the same pretenses.
One year later, Eagle obtained a mortgage loan for $17.03 million from the First National Bank of Pennsylvania. He reportedly claimed that he was in sole possession of the land and had approval from all of the trust beneficiaries.
Eagle allegedly further submitted to the bank an altered false and fictitious trust agreement that named himself as the sole beneficiary of the trust.
In 2008, he obtained a renewal of the original promissory note for the loan.
According to the documents, Eagle profited as a result of his “materially false and fraudulent pretenses.” He used part of the loan proceeds to fund other projects he controlled, defrauding the beneficiaries and both banks.
While Eagle paid off the $2 million loan with proceeds from the second loan, he defaulted on the $17.03 million loan from First National Bank, causing the bank to initiate foreclosure proceedings on the 101 acres in October 2009.
The unpaid principal balance remains at $17.03 million.
As part of the plea agreement, Eagle must make full restitution to First National Bank and the beneficiaries of the Pine Island 101 Land Trust.
The beneficiaries have not been compensated for the initial payments as interest holders, yearly mortgage, tax, insurance and administrative payments, nor for the increase in the value of the property since 1990.
Jim Irvin, owner of Irvin Pest Control, is one of the beneficiaries.
“We tried for a long time to get someone to look at this – we started to give up that there was going to be any justice served,” he said Tuesday.
Irvin and the other beneficiaries have entered into a class action lawsuit against Eagle and First National Bank. He explained they hope to find the bank at fault, or culpable, for not doing its due diligence before approving the loan.
“Ideally, what we would get back is our cost basis, administrative fees and assessments, plus a fair return on our investment,” he said.
Attorney Mark Trank is representing the trust beneficiaries in the suit.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is recover as much of the investors’ money that they invested in that property,” he said Tuesday.
The trust purchased the property for $3.2 million in 1990.
“We’re hoping to recoup not only the principal, we’re trying to recover as much of the money as they contributed along the way,” Trank said.
A trial is tentatively scheduled for early May in the suit.
“We don’t yet have a specific court date,” he said.
Trank expressed pleasure at learning of the federal plea agreement.
“That there is a requirement that he make full restitution to the victims, we think that is very important,” he said.
“We were aware there was a criminal investigation,” Trank added. “We had no idea that this was going to happen or when it was going to happen.”
Eagle has reported that all parties will get paid in full once a claim he and others have filed in New York against Wells Fargo and others is settled.
“We feel that if there is any potential for recovery from that lawsuit in New York, the government needs to take steps to ensure that that goes toward restitution,” Trank said.
Eagle declined to comment on the charges against him Tuesday.