Title insurance fraud costs man $2 million, prison time

January 22, 2006

Businessman defrauded title co. to buy football team

Inman News

A Michigan businessman and former chiropractor will spend 33 1/2 months in federal prison and must pay restitution of nearly $2 million to a title insurance company he defrauded in early 2002, in part so he could buy an Arena Football League team in Florida, The Flint Journal reported Wednesday.

"Frankly, I think your conduct was deplorable," U.S. District Judge Paul V. Gadola said Tuesday as he sentenced Thom D. Hopper, 57, formerly of Fenton Township, to the prison term and to make restitution of more than $1.8 million, the Journal reported.

"I put things in the wrong order," Hopper reportedly said before he was sentenced. "I never intended to steal."

Hopper, a Flint, Mich., native, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud last April 14 but asked for time to be able to begin making restitution to the Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co. in Livonia, Mich., reports said. He was charged by U.S. attorneys in December 2004 but made his plea and never went to trial, according to reports.

The government charged that Hopper, known in the Flint area as an avid golfer and creator of various business entities, used a company he created called Klear Title that sold insurance and acted as an escrow agent for Commonwealth, a nationwide title insurance corporation, reports said.

As president and owner of Klear Title, Hopper, beginning early in 2001, handled money from people and companies buying and selling property -- money that he was obligated to keep in an escrow account and disburse only to make payments to lenders, according to reports.

But the government charged, "Hopper wrongfully misappropriated and diverted trust funds" from this account for his own purposes, and fraudulently used disbursements from the trust account to fund his own personal business transactions, such as purchasing a track, football team and other business," the complaint said, according to reports.

That team was the Tampa Bay Storm, part of the Arena Football League. In mid-March 2002, the team announced that Hopper had completed buying the team, then valued at more than $12 million, from Pete "Woody" Kern. Hopper's purchase was reported at the time to be the largest amount paid for an Arena Football team. According to published reports at the time, Hopper had put a $1 million down payment on the Storm, the Journal said.

About two weeks later, on March 28, the government alleged, Hopper transferred another $635,000 from an account at Citizens Bank to his own company and then to a bank in Ottawa, Canada, where he had an account, reports said.

Eventually, Hopper's deal for the Tampa Bay Storm fell through when he couldn't come up with the rest of the money to complete the purchase, according to reports.

Hopper's attorneys, Sam Ragnone and Dennis R. Lazar, indicated their client hadn't intended to simply take the money for his own use but to borrow it, make a big profit on his investments and replace it, reports said.

At Hopper's sentencing Tuesday, Ragnone said that stock owned by Hopper and his fifth wife in a casino in Biloxi, Miss., damaged by Hurricane Katrina was worth more than $9 million and could be used to make restitution, and asked Gadola to allow Hopper to remain free on probation so he could do this, reports said.

Copyright 2006 Innam News

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