Man pleads guilty in bank fraud case

Ex-Ridgefield resident used Vancouver building to get loan

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A former Ridgefield man pleaded guilty Monday in Portland to multiple crimes related to a September 2008 sham refinancing of an office building in Vancouver, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sheldon Harmon, who now lives in St. George, Utah, pleaded guilty to bank fraud, making false statements to a bank and two counts of money laundering. Harmon is in his mid-30s but his exact age couldn't be determined by press time. He will be sentenced Aug. 12 by U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez in Portland. He faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

Harmon provided false information to Umqua Bank in Beaverton, Ore., that the office building at 4001 Main St. was more than 90 percent occupied and yielding more than $74,000 in monthly rent payments.

In fact, the building was largely vacant, prosecutors said.

During the underwriting process, Harmon had business signs made and placed them outside the building to make it appear there were tenants renting the space, according to prosecutors.

The lies persuaded the bank to lend Harmon more than $3.8 million to refinance the property. Harmon pocketed more than $1.2 million of the loan and failed to make payments. He then had the debt discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010, costing the bank more than $2 million, according to court documents. His family went on food stamps the same year.

However, at the same time, he continued to drive a Cadillac Escalade, take his family on vacations and make payments on his $1.6 million home in Ridgefield, according to prosecutors.

The office building was once home to Lighthouse Financial, a mortgage brokerage that Harmon founded at age 24.

Lighthouse and Harmon were barred from doing business in Oregon in 2009 for illegal lending practices. The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions then revoked the company's license in June 2010.

Lighthouse violated mortgage lending law by opening unlicensed branches, hiring brokers who had criminal records or were unlicensed, keeping shoddy client records and providing fraudulent information on mortgage applications.

Lighthouse was licensed in Oregon and Washington between 2002 and 2009 and had 11 branches in the two states.

Harmon also was president of another mortgage company, eLIFE Mortgage Inc., which operated at the same address.

A dozen other people with Lighthouse connections also have faced criminal charges, according to The Oregonian.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com