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    LaBrake inquiry taps loan officer

    Federal agents look at city loans to the credit union official who set up the "dream home'' loan.

    By JEFF TESTERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 3, 2002

    TAMPA -- Federal investigators are looking into city loans connected to the credit union official who handled the mortgage used to finance the South Tampa dream home of Steve LaBrake and Lynne McCarter.

    A federal agent recently obtained the original file for a Tampa Challenge Fund loan to Lori Roberts for a $45,787 renovation of her Floriland home, a job that doubled in cost after LaBrake replaced the original contractor.

    The agent also picked up the file for a $19,000 deferred payment loan from the city to Mary Jean Roberts, the former mother-in-law of Lori Roberts and grandmother of Lori Roberts' two sons.

    The investigator obtaining the files, according to city records, is Timothy A. Mowery, a special agent with the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD agent is assisting FBI agents who began seeking records pertaining to LaBrake and McCarter last summer.

    Federal grand jury subpoenas already have been issued for personnel records of LaBrake and McCarter, as well as for financial records at the USF Federal Credit Union.

    The federal investigation was sparked by news accounts of the construction of a 4,200-square-foot home in South Tampa by LaBrake, the city's former housing chief, and McCarter, one of his top aides and the mother of his recently born child.

    The home was built with a $230,000 mortgage secured by McCarter in January 2001 from the USF credit union despite her marginal financial statement. McCarter paid a membership fee to join the USF Alumni Association, then applied to Roberts at the credit union for the mortgage.

    At the time of her application, McCarter was a $55,723-a-year city employee already responsible for three mortgages totaling $225,000.

    Roberts was no stranger to McCarter or LaBrake. From 1995 to 1999, Roberts handled three credit union mortgage loans for LaBrake.

    In 1996, LaBrake interceded on Roberts' behalf to fire one contractor and hire Ryan Construction to complete the city-financed renovation of Roberts' home at 215 Marham Ave. McCarter was the city employee who processed Roberts' loan application.

    In 1998, LaBrake helped Roberts out again, this time pushing through a loan subordination agreement that enabled Roberts to get a $26,000 credit union loan for a pool.

    The legal agreement violated several city policies. The city did not get a new appraisal on the home, and ultimately, not all of the $26,000 was spent on the pool.

    Ryan Construction, a builder that has profited from more than $1-million worth of city contracts from LaBrake's department in recent years, is the contractor who agreed to build the shell of LaBrake's and McCarter's home at 3608 W Corona Ave. for the bargain price of $105,000.

    Roberts, now remarried and known as Lori Horne, did not return calls made to the credit union, where she is still employed.

    The loan to Mary Jean Roberts, made by the city in April 2000 and witnessed by Lori Roberts, was to pay for the painting and rehabilitation of her 1,618-square-foot home at 3304 W Wallace Ave. The work was done by Michael Angelo Construction.

    Mrs. Roberts, a widow, qualified for the deferred payment loan by virtue of her $8,856-a-year Social Security income. The zero-interest loan does not have to be paid back as long as she is the owner-occupant of the home.

    Mrs. Roberts said last week she has no idea why investigators wanted to review her loan records.

    "This is the first I've heard of it," she said. "I do think I got good work for the money I got from the city."

    Federal investigators also obtained three other loan files from the city. They involve:

    A 1998 deferred payment loan of $5,700 to Frank and Nadine Saladino of 4508 Ballast Point Blvd.

    A 1996 deferred payment loan of $9,400 to Catherine L. Newman of 3306 W Wallace Ave. Until the home was sold, Newman was the next-door neighbor of Mrs. Roberts.

    A 1994 loan of $55,000 to Dorothy Horne for purchase of the home at 503 E Sparkman St. There is no indication Mrs. Horne is related to Lori Horne.

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