The federal trial begins today for a former Columbia County businesswoman who operated what she claimed was a mortgage rescue operation.
Regina Preetorius has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of wire and mail fraud and three counts of money laundering. Testimony in the U.S. District Court in Augusta trial should begin this afternoon or Tuesday. The trial is expected to continue into the following week.
Preetorius was initially indicted in 2012 but was reindicted in February. The new indictment includes more alleged victims.
According to the indictment, Preetorius is accused of running a shell game with investors, distressed homeowners and people who entered into lease-purchase agreements with her from 2004 through 2009.
According to Preetorius’ previous statements in bankruptcy court and other court filings, her business operated as intended until the property value crash of 2008. She set up SDA & Associates, and several similar businesses under different names, to assist people facing possible foreclosure. Under her stated business plan, she would negotiate with the mortgage lender to enable the
homeowner to continue making payments, or she would help the homeowner sell the home.
Money from investors, who were promised a 12 percent return, would be used to purchase and renovate the homes, and the homes would be sold under rent-to-own agreements.
However, The Augusta Chronicle reported in 2008 that Preetorius’ clients often ended up with nothing.
Investors who had been told their money was protected by liens on homes discovered their liens were worthless because financial institutions that held first mortgages were first in line. Homeowners who gave Preetorius power of attorney to sell their homes discovered property records indicated their homes belonged to her. And people who entered lease-purchase agreements found themselves facing eviction because the original mortgages weren’t paid off and financial institutions foreclosed on the homes.
By the time Preetorius and her husband declared bankruptcy themselves in August 2008, there had been more than 40 foreclosures, numerous bankruptcies and the loss of several investors’ life savings by her clients.