Sean Hannity’s real estate venture bought houses through a property dealer who was involved in a criminal conspiracy to fraudulently obtain foreclosed homes, according to records reviewed by the Guardian.
In 2012, a shell company linked to the Fox News host bought 11 homes in Georgia that had been purchased by the dealer, Jeff Brock, following foreclosures. Brock transferred the properties to corporate vehicles that sold them on to the Hannity-linked company at a profit.
Brock pleaded guilty in 2016 to federal charges of bank fraud and conspiracy for his role in an operation to rig foreclosure auctions between 2007 and 2012. He was sentenced to six months in prison and had to pay more than $166,000 in fines and restitution.
Some of the houses sold on to the Hannity-linked firm in 2012 had been acquired by Brock from banks later named by prosecutors among his victims. But the justice department declined to identify specific properties sold in the rigged auctions. Hannity has not been accused of any wrongdoing and there is no evidence he was aware that Brock was involved in fraud.
Christopher Reeves, an attorney for Hannity, said the Fox News host was not involved in choosing the houses bought via Brock and “has no knowledge whether these properties were involved in the fraud”.
Reeves said neither Hannity nor the company used to buy the properties “had any knowledge regarding Mr Brock’s wrongdoing” before being informed by the Guardian on Monday.
An attorney for Brock, Don Samuel, said in an email: “Jeff has nothing to say.”
The company linked to Hannity was one of a group identified by the Guardian on Sunday that spent $90m buying more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade. Hannity was confirmed as the hidden owner behind some of the companies and has not disputed that he is the owner of all of them.
Hannity defended his real estate investments on Monday, stating in a post to his website that he had chosen to invest his personal wealth in “communities that badly need such investment” and that he had limited involvement in the venture’s day-to-day operation.
“The fact is, these are investments that I do not individually select, control, or know the details about; except that obviously I believe in putting my money to work in communities that otherwise struggle to receive such support,” Hannity wrote.
Hannity-linked company’s purchases
In February 2012, the Hannity-linked company spent about $540,000 buying 10 single-family houses in Georgia’s Fulton, Cobb, Clayton, and DeKalb counties, according to county records. It bought an additional DeKalb county property later that year for about $60,000.
The company was formed in Georgia days before the February purchases by an attorney for Hannity. It was registered to the offices of Henssler Financial, Hannity’s wealth managers. As a limited liability company (LLC), it was not required to report its actual owner to Georgia regulators. Hannity is not mentioned in the company’s publicly available filings.
Brock had bought the 11 Georgia houses in foreclosure auctions in 2011 and 2012, after the previous owners defaulted on mortgages. He transferred the properties to five LLCs. Brock was the registered agent for two of the five LLCs and a colleague at Key Property was the agent for another. Then the Hannity-linked company bought the houses from these five LLCs, paying a total of $600,000.
Where payment information was clear in the records, it indicated that the sales created significant profits. One four-bedroom home in College Park that Brock bought for $14,000 in January 2012 was sold to the Hannity-linked company for $47,000 the following month. Another in Forest Park, for which Brock paid $19,000 in October 2011, was sold on for $55,000.
Brock’s auction-rigging scheme
US prosecutors said that, during the period in which he was buying the properties, Brock and two co-defendants were running a scheme to rig foreclosure auctions, where people bid to buy homes that have been repossessed by mortgage lenders.
The men agreed not to compete on property sales so one could win the auctions with “artificially low bids”, according to charging documents. The winning bidder would then give payoffs to the others to reward them for not having competed.
When asked for details on specific houses bought in the rigged sales, Jeremy Edwards, a spokesman for the justice department, said in an email: “As a matter of policy, DoJ does not disclose that type of information.”
Reeves, Hannity’s attorney, said the Fox News host and the company used to buy the houses “ceased doing business with Mr Brock and Key Properties in 2012”.
Brock was released from the US penitentiary in Atlanta, a medium-security facility, in June 2017, according to federal records. He remains under the supervision of a probation officer until 2019. As part of Brock’s plea agreement, he has agreed to cooperate with US authorities on related investigations and any new inquiries arising from them.
Federal officials said Brock was at the time of his plea one of 20 people who had been charged as part of a major investigation into corruption around property foreclosure sales in the Atlanta region.
“These defendants conspired to corrupt foreclosure auctions that should have benefited lenders and homeowners,” the deputy assistant attorney general, Renata Hesse, who is head of the justice department’s antitrust division, said in a statement at the time.
Special Agent J Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta division said: “By the very nature of this criminal act, the bank, and more importantly, the homeowner in financial distress, are the victims that these federal laws were created to protect.”