Local News

Arranging mortgages for pot grow houses lands Raleigh lawyer in prison

Posted August 10, 2016 12:23 p.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2016 2:17 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh attorney was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison for arranging fraudulent mortgages for a college buddy who was using homes as marijuana grow houses, federal prosecutors said.

Joseph Lee Levinson pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured financial institutions. In addition to his prison sentence, he was ordered to pay $230,079 in restitution to various lending institutions.

Prosecutors said Levinson helped Jotham Walker Pruitt obtain mortgages on properties near Hillsborough from 2005 to 2010 so Pruitt could run a marijuana operation out of them. The pair prepared loan applications to Long Beach Mortgage Corporation and SunTrust Bank, claiming the homes would be used as residences or rental property and also presented bogus leases to Countrywide Bank, N.A., to support Pruitt’s application for mortgage funding to purchase a third grow house, prosecutors said.

The judge gave Levinson a more lenient sentence that called for under federal guidelines, noting that his participation in the scheme was minimal and that he didn't receive as much benefit from it as much as Pruitt and others.

"I'm grateful to the court for granting me a sentence below the minimum guidelines. If grace was deserved, no one would need it; and the outpouring of community support during these difficult and painful times has been deeply
humbling," Levinson said in a statement. "I'll dedicate the rest of my life to making things right to my family, friends and community and proving to them that their faith in me is well placed."

The grow operation ceased in December 2010, and the banks foreclosed on the homes after Pruitt stopped making mortgages payments.

Pruitt and two others have pleaded guilty to federal drug charges in the case.