Man pleads guilty to federal bank fraud charge

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BURLINGTON — A Connecticut man, who was due to go on trial in federal court in Burlington this month in connection with obtaining $1.6 million in bogus bank loans, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud at six institutions including The Bank of Bennington between 2013 and 2015.

Matthew C. Abel, 45, who also has been living recently in Winhall, admitted he was part of a plan to also bilk the First National Bank of America, Prime Lending/Colonial Savings Bank, Discover Home Loans and Emigrant Mortgage Company by obtaining money through phony mortgage loan applications as part of the two-year conspiracy, the indictment said.

As part of the plan, Abel and Alison Gu, 41, of Winhall bought several properties the government is seeking to have forfeited. They include 389 Read Farm Road in Dorset and 6 Old Snow Valley Road in Winhall, U.S. District Court records show.

The other properties are in Cheshire, Conn., West Yarmouth, Mass., Cocoa Beach, Fla., and Austin, Texas, the indictment said.

Gu, who is due to go on trial by herself on Oct. 30, has at least nine listed aliases in the federal indictment, including Alison Ling. Gu, the mother of three children, is described in court papers as Abel's girlfriend.

One of the false identities that Gu assumed belonged to a girl killed in a mass shooting outside a Stockton, Calif. school in January 1989, court records show. The girl was one of five children killed, while 30 other students and teachers were wounded before the gunman turned the gun on himself, Special Agent Ryan Renart of the Diplomatic Security Services in St. Albans wrote in court papers.

Abel could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, fined up to $1 million and placed on supervised release for up to five years once discharged from prison. He also faces a mandatory restitution order.

Defense lawyer Craig Nolan said he believes that once the final accounting is completed, the banks will have no losses because of the value of the properties and the collateral used for the loans.

Chief Federal Judge Christina Reiss agreed to allow Abel to remain free on conditions pending sentencing, tentatively set for Feb. 6. Reiss deferred accepting the plea agreement until the presentence investigation report is completed by the U.S. Probation Office.

As part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors Michael Drescher and Kevin Doyle said the government has agreed not to charge Abel with other crimes that are known about. They also will recommend Abel get credit for acceptance of reasonability in part for his guilty plea.

Under the signed plea agreement, Abel admitted to the following:

- Between 2013 and September 2015 he helped devise a scheme to defraud the six banks through a series of bank loans and re-financing applications. He formed a corporation called "Ramps Unlimited" in Connecticut on Aug. 13, 2013 and used it to purchase the property in Cheshire, Conn.

- He transferred the property in February 26, 2015 with Gu, also known at the time as Aljean Chen and Jing Shao. As part of the scheme, Gu established false identities using the Social Security number of a dead person and applied for a loan with Abel at the Bank of Bennington, and two other institutions.

- By June 2015 Abel had started a mortgage application at the Bank of Bennington to buy the property in Dorset, but later substituted "Ai J. Chen" as the purchaser.

- In September 2015 Abel submitted altered bank statements, forged employment identification forms, forged pay statements, a forged W-2 form from the Internal Revenue Service. With the help of Gu, they obtained a mortgage loan of about $417,000 from the Bank of Bennington.

A series of similar transactions are listed for other properties listed in the indictment, according to the 10-page written plea agreement.

Abel is listed in the plea agreement for possible forfeiture of five of the six properties. It will be left up to the court at sentencing whether he need to forfeit the properties. He is not listed for the Winhall property, where Gu resides and he has lived at times.

Gu, besides the bank fraud charge, also is facing charges of making a false statement in a passport application in St. Albans for herself and for unlawful possession or use of an identification of another person to help facilitate the passport application, court records show. They indicate Gu obtained two fraudulent New Hampshire driver licenses on the same day with different names.

While making the passport application, Gu listed a mailing address as in Swanton and a permanent address in Nashua, N.H., Special Agent Renart wrote in his court affidavit.

He said Gu had various forms of fake identification cards, including a Johnson State College student card from 2015.

Renart wrote the Danbury, Conn. Police Department reported that, after a 2015 court-ordered search of the Cheshire home, investigators found 10 computers and a U.S. Passport issued to "Alison Yi Ling," which is one of Gu's aliases.

He said Danbury police said they had gathered evidence that "Ling" and Abel were involved in counterfeit goods, real estate fraud, fraudulent documents and impersonating a judge.

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