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Berkeley County sheriff's deputy pleads not guilty to bank fraud charges

April 16, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Berkeley County sheriff’s deputy has pleaded not guilty to bank fraud charges that have been filed against him in federal district court in Martinsburg.

Steven A. Crites, 41, of 501 Ropp Drive, Martinsburg, was released on his own recognizance Friday after being arraigned by Magistrate David J. Joel, according to court records. Crites’ trial is scheduled to begin June 19, according to court records.

Crites requested to be placed on administrative leave a couple of weeks ago, Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster said Monday.

“At this point, he’s not receiving a paycheck,” Lemaster said.

Crites was working as a real estate developer and builder when the alleged crimes involving Wells Fargo Bank happened between May 2006 and March 2008, according to a four-count indictment filed April 3.

The indictment, which was unsealed Friday, alleges Crites devised a scheme to defraud the bank, and that in April and May 2007, he overstated his income on applications to secure mortgage loans from the bank to purchase town homes In Inwood, W.Va., from his business partnerships, Topaz LLC and Eagle Properties LLC, court documents state.

Crites is accused of obtaining the proceeds from three mortgage loans, each in the amount of $166,000, from Wells Fargo for the purchase of three Topaz Lane town homes in Inwood on April 27, 2007, according to the indictment, which was unsealed Friday.

On June 8, 2007, Crites obtained $193,500 in mortgage loan proceeds to purchase a town home on Pulpit Lane near Martinsburg, according to court records.

Crites then allegedly transferred the town homes used to secure the mortgage loans to VAC LLC.

Crites became a partner and had held a 50 percent interest in VAC LLC and the other two limited-liability companies, beginning in 2006, according to court documents.

After he failed to make some payments on the loans, the properties were foreclosed upon and the bank suffered “substantial losses,” according to the indictment.

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According to county records, Crites has been an employee of Berkeley County since 2002.

Crites faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine for each count.

The charges against Crites come a little more than a year after Crites’ business partner in at least two of the limited-liability companies was accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Topaz LLC, according to court documents.

A felony count of embezzlement filed against George H. Van Wagner of Martinsburg still is pending, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Monday.

In May 2011, Berkeley County Magistrate Harry L. Snow found probable cause to bind the case over to circuit court for presentation of evidence to a grand jury, according to court records.

Van Wagner and Crites formed Topaz LLC in 2006, according to court records and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.

Each of the 36 town homes that were part of Topaz LLC were sold at a profit, according to court records.

In an interview in March 2011, Crites said he had trusted Van Wagner, despite his business partner’s drug-related convictions and association with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry.

Van Wagner, in a separate interview last year, maintained he was “a straight shooter” in his dealings with Crites and did nothing wrong.

Van Wagner also claimed his embezzlement case was not fully investigated by the police.

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