An Orange County businessman, who used his escrow company in what a federal prosecutor described as a "Ponzi-like scheme" to swindle more than $2.44 million from home buyers, pleaded guilty today.
Though he initially claimed he was innocent in June, Russell Samuel Biszantz told U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter that he knowingly operated an unlicensed escrow company that diverted bank loans for customers to pay his own company expenses and secretly channeled funds to other borrowers.
According to Assistant United States Attorney Greg Staples, Biszantz owned eLender Escrow, Inc. of Lake Forest, failed to obey state disclosure laws, lost his license in 2008, and nonetheless continued to seek deals with unwitting consumers, including an abused couple in Arkansas.
The scheme, officially unraveled in federal court in an April filing by the U.S. Department of Justice, cheated at least eight buyers out of their loans, which apparently remain unpaid.
At today's hearing, Carter asked Biszantz if he would pay restitution to the victims and the businessman solemnly agreed.
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How much prison time, if any, Carter will order won't be known until a Dec. 16 sentencing hearing inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
Biszantz, who was born in 1970, remains free from custody on bail because the judge doesn't not consider him dangerous or, because he had to surrender his U.S. passport, a flight risk.