MADISON – A former New Richmond man who scammed nearly $400,000 from dozens of people whose homes were in foreclosure, was sentenced Tuesday, March 17, in federal court to 12 years in prison and three years’ supervised release.
Aston S. Wood, 57, took mortgage payments from about 40 vulnerable people under the guise of getting their mortgages refinanced, but instead kept the money which resulted in several people losing their homes.
“This was the house that my father and I built. I thought I was making house payments, but we lost a house that I may have been able to keep,” said a man who will be identified by his initials R.K.
The stress was “overbearing” on R.K.’s wife, who recently died, he said. R.K. also said that he was aggravated because he probably could have kept his home had he dealt with a honest businessman.
“We turned to you in need and you screwed us over ... . He’s lucky I couldn’t take it back in blood,” R.K. told District Judge James Peterson.
Several other clients of Wood’s told the judge either by phone or in person that dealing with Wood had devastating consequences for their families.
A former client said she attempted suicide part way through the several years she dealt with Wood, during which he assured the woman, identified by initials D.B. that things would work out for her.
“Things never got better. I received several eviction notices despite my continuing to make payments to Wood. My suicide attempt didn’t even seem to make a difference to him,” D.B. said
The woman said she lost $10,000 to Wood and filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy but has kept her house, and now makes mortgage payments by certified check sent by certified mail.
A former Mondovi man said his house wasn’t in foreclosure but contacted Wood to refinance his mortgage to lower the monthly payment. Wood said he would “take care of it,” but within a year the man, whose initials are G.W., said he was out of his house.
“I was $40,000 away from paying off the house but I lost everything. … I’m living in a semi now,” said G.W., a long-haul trucker who moved from Mondovi because “I felt like a loser there.”
Losing the family home while making payments to a con artist “devastates” the entire family, a woman whose initials are T.T. told Peterson by phone.
“My husband and I both commute an hour each way to work," she said, in cars with more than 200,000 miles on them. "We work hard, made our payments and this destroyed our credit rating which made it difficult to even find a rental home."
A man who lived near Arcadia turned to Wood for help after his mortgage payment more than doubled. Wood acted like he was a government official investigating the bank for fraud. The Arcadia man kept making payments to Wood right up until he began receiving letters from the FBI. Wood told the man the letters were fake and if he responded to them his refinancing would fall though and he’d lose his house.
He lost his house anyway and has been living in a machine shed with no running water and until last month, no heat or electricity.
Wood gained his expertise in refinancing mortgages by working with a government program that helped homeowners at risk of losing their homes. Once the program ended so did Wood’s legitimate business practices.
Between January 2014 and July 2019 he solicited homeowners in foreclosure. Operating companies named ASC Financial, LLC and Maywood Capital II, LLC, Wood defrauded more than 70 Wisconsin homeowners by promising them that he would get their mortgages refinanced or reinstated if they made their monthly payments directly to him.
Instead, Wood deposited the funds in his own bank accounts and didn’t make payments on behalf of his financially troubled clients.
Wood filed bankruptcy and a bankruptcy court trustee alleged Wood took clients’ money without extracting their homes from foreclosure as he had promised.
The trustee’s complaint formed by the basis of the federal prosecution which resulted in Wood being indicted in September on six counts of wire fraud and single counts of mail and bankruptcy fraud and criminal contempt.
Last fall, Wood pleaded guilty to mail and bankruptcy fraud but while awaiting sentencing, he contacted clients which violated conditions of his release and he was in custody at sentencing.
Violating conditions of release also deprived Wood of a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
Wood face advisory sentencing guidelines of 70 to 84 months in prison but Peterson imposed a far harsher sentenced after saying Wood’s financial crime is the worst he’s seen as a judge.
“It stands apart of any financial crime I’ve (adjudicated) in six years on the bench,” he said.
Peterson called Wood’s crime “heartless, relentless and cruel.”
Although Wood turned and apologized to several of his victims in the courtroom, Peterson didn’t find the apology sincere. Peterson noted that Wood had prior fraud-related convictions and presumed he would continue to victimize people if he had another opportunity.
Although the lengthy sentence lessens the prospects that Wood’s clients would be repaid, Peterson said that possibility was remote given Wood’s age and ability to make a living with his criminal record.
Peterson will set a restitution hearing within 90 days to determine the actual amount he owes his clients, but the judge said it was likely the clients were owed substantially more than Wood could ever repay them.