East Bay Real Estate Agent Sentenced for Sophisticated Home-Sales Fraud

September 6, 2018 Updated: September 6, 2018

A 70-year-old East Bay real estate agent has been sentenced in federal court in San Francisco to six and one-half years in prison for sophisticated housing-sales fraud based on the creation of a phony mortgage company.

Robert Jacobsen, of Kensington and formerly of Lafayette, was sentenced on Sept. 4, by U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney for one count of wire fraud and one count of carrying out a financial transaction with illegally obtained funds.

He pleaded guilty to the two counts in July. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped 12 other wire fraud counts and eight other financial transaction counts in a 2015 grand jury indictment.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman said Jacobsen admitted in his plea agreement that he created a scheme in 2012 and 2013 to sell two houses in San Francisco and Danville to unsuspecting buyers who did not know the residences had “underwater” mortgage liens and tried to sell the third house in Monterey in the same way.

An underwater mortgage is one carrying a debt greater than the value of the mortgaged home. The mortgages on the three houses were issued by a business called American Brokers Conduit, which went bankrupt along with its parent company, American Home Mortgage Corp., during the U.S. financial crisis in 2007. The mortgages were then sold to other financial institutions, which were unaware of the scheme.

Jacobsen created a shell company with a similar name, American Brokers Conduit Corp., and told the original homeowners that he could free them of the debt if they signed over the deeds to companies he controlled. He promised to give them a small payment after he resold the houses, according to court documents.

Jacobsen then filed lawsuits against the phony mortgage company and controlled the lawyers on both sides, according to prosecutors. In each case, the two sides directed by Jacobsen agreed to a settlement declaring the mortgages invalid. He then sought to sell the houses.

Jacobsen sold the San Francisco house for $1.2 million and the Danville house for $800,000, but the intended sale of the Monterey house for $3 million was stymied when the new mortgage holder discovered the fraud, according to a prosecution-sentencing document.

Jacobsen laundered the money from the two sales, through banks in the United States and Belize, and spent some of the proceeds on a $475,000 yacht, prosecutors said. As part of the plea bargain, Jacobsen agreed to forfeit the yacht.

By Julia Cheever