A 46-year-old man who was convicted after running a massive mortgage fraud operation never showed up to serve his prison sentence -- and the FBI is now offering a reward for any information that could help track him down.
For more than four years, Ronnie Duke of Fenton, Mich. ran one of the country's largest mortgage schemes. Making more than 450 fraudulent loans using 180 different properties as collateral in the Detroit area, they embezzled millions from mortgage lenders nationwide.
Duke and his team -- several of whom were former exotic dancers, according to a Detroit News report from last year -- recruited some "straw buyers," people with good credit who never intended to pay the loans. They also created fictitious title companies, fake closing documents and counterfeit purchase agreements to make the transactions look real. In most cases, according to the FBI, the warranty deeds and mortgages were left unrecorded, meaning the loans were unsecured. These "ghost loans" were typically for $350,000 to $600,000 each -- and most of the homes ended up in foreclosure, the FBI said.
The money helped fund Duke's passion for drag racing, including the $50,000 he spent to build a replica of the General Lee Dodge Charger to recreate the famous jump from the opening credits of the "Dukes Of Hazzard" television show.
But in 2007, the FBI executed several search warrants in metro Detroit and Florida. Duke confessed, giving the feds enough information to convict 15 others involved in the operation, which had bilked lenders out of more than $100 million. When Duke was sentenced to 13 years in a West Virginia prison, the government argued that Duke should be immediately incarcerated. The judge instead upped his bond and gave Duke time to settle his affairs before reporting to prison, although his criminal history included allegations of embezzlement, credit card fraud, receiving and concealing stolen property, escape, aggravated stalking and disturbing the peace. He also escaped from a prison camp in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1991, the Detroit News report stated.
In addition to skipping out on his prison sentence, Duke owes $1 million in fines and a staggering $94 million in restitution.
"We will capture him and bring him to justice and make him pay for the crimes that he’s committed,” Detroit FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Abbate told WXYZ-TV.
The FBI is now offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Ronnie Duke. Contact the Detroit FBI office at 313-965-2323 or email them with any information. He was last known to have a 1997 GMC Jimmy registered to him, with a Michigan license plate of CGS 8574 and was also seen driving in a black early-1960s Chevrolet SS.