Mortgage fraud wasn’t the only deceptive practice plaguing Marylanders. Lamondes Williams, 51, of Baltimore along with Erica Brown, 28, of Laurel, Md., are accused of falsely promising people with bad credit to rent vehicles with an understanding that rental payments would go towards the purchase of the vehicle.

The indictment says Williams was the mastermind behind the scheme. He would ask customers to make a down payment for the vehicles and pay a monthly fee, which was supposedly going toward ownership of the vehicle. Customers, however, were really entering into agreements with third-party rental agencies with no possibility of ownership.

Williams, who has lived in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, would rent the vehicles for a short period of time, without telling the customer, while they continued to make payments.

When the rental car agencies contacted the customers seeking the return of the vehicles, the customers would contact Williams. Williams would refuse to return the fees and on some occasions, wouldn’t return phone calls.

Brown was involved by promoting for Williams through various media including two websites, along with placing classified ads in the PennySaver, Craigslist and Backpage.

It was a scheme reminiscent of many mortgage scams and it appears Williams has an extensive history of defrauding Maryland residents. In 2005 when he was convicted in a pyramid scheme involving apartment properties.

Last year, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General (OAG) instituted a cease and desist order for Williams and his companies, saying that he was willfully defrauding victims through various businesses and pyramid schemes.

In that case, Williams offered people an opportunity to become a part of his company, Diversified Marketing Concepts (DMC), “by paying an application fee and subsequent monthly fees of $100 in exchange for the opportunity to earn commissions and, for a highly-discounted advance fee, the use of an apartment or car for a year.”

In many of these situations, the “sales-reps” would pay Williams up to $5,000 and would be given an apartment that was purported to be rent-free. But because the rent was never paid, the sales representatives would be evicted.

The OAG estimates that during a seven-month time span in 2009, this scheme raised more than $800,000 for Williams.

“This has all the earmarks of a pyramid or ponzi scheme,” said Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler in statement. “When there is no identified source of income except other investors, the risk of loss increases sharply. In addition, neither the company nor its promoters are registered with the Securities Division as required by Maryland law to sell securities.”

Williams and Brown face up to 20 years on the federal charges.

Authorities are asking anyone who may have been a victim of Williams’ schemes to call the U.S. Secret Service at 443-263-1000.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO