Supporters of Las Vegas lawyer Gerry Zobrist nearly filled a federal courtroom Thursday, but they couldn’t save him from the seven-year prison term sought by prosecutors in his mortgage fraud case.
Authorities said the fraud scheme caused financial institutions to lose more than $30 million.
Zobrist’s wife, Sheri, began crying, shaking and gasping for breath after U.S. District Judge James Mahan announced the 87-month sentence. Paramedics soon arrived to treat her.
Earlier in the hearing, Sheri Zobrist spoke on her husband’s behalf. She said they had been married for 21 years.
“I don’t know how to exist without him as a parent,” she tearfully told Mahan. “I don’t know how my kids can exist without him in their life.”
Zobrist, 43, pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.
Between 2006 and 2008, authorities said, Zobrist and his accomplices paid straw buyers to purchase 144 homes in the valley, obtaining mortgage loans for more than $53 million.
They submitted applications that contained fraudulent information about the straw buyers’ income and assets.
Part of the sales proceeds went to real estate companies and other entities controlled by Zobrist and his accomplices, authorities said.
They defaulted on the mortgage loans, causing the homes to go into foreclosure and causing the financial institutions to lose at least $30 million. On Thursday, Mahan ordered Zobrist to pay that amount in restitution.
Before his sentence was announced, Zobrist apologized to the court, the government and the victims for his participation in the conspiracy.
“I want the opportunity to be able to regain my self-respect, to regain the respect of my peers, to regain the respect of my friends and family,” he told Mahan.
Zobrist has been licensed to practice law in Nevada since 1999. He has served as a substitute justice of the peace, and in 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Las Vegas Justice Court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Schiess argued that Zobrist has tried to minimize his role in the conspiracy since pleading guilty.
Defense lawyer Brett Tolman, the former U.S. attorney for Utah, called Zobrist’s participation in the fraud scheme an “aberration” in his life.
Zobrist’s sentence reflected a reduction he received for assisting in the investigation. He has until Dec. 6 to surrender to prison.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.