An attorney with offices in Raleigh and Benson has pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge that stemmed from the financing of three marijuana “grow houses” in Orange County several years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
Joseph Lee Levinson admitted Friday that he was guilty on one count of conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured financial institutions, according to a statement from Ripley Rand, the U.S. Attorney for the state’s Middle District, which covers Orange County.
After an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, authorities arrested Levinson and a college friend, Jotham Walker Pruitt, Rand said in the statement.
The two, authorities charged, told mortgage lenders that they were buying houses in the Hillsborough area to occupy or rent when the houses were going to be used as “grow houses” for a marijuana manufacturing operation.
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The scheme operated from 2005 to 2010, the statement said, and mortgage lenders lost more than $250,000 when payments stopped after the business shut down, authorities charged. The banks foreclosed on the properties.
Among the institutions that loaned money to Pruitt based on applications he and Levinson prepared were Long Beach Mortgage Corporation and SunTrust Bank, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Pruitt has pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case, the statement said.
Levinson is listed in Wake County tax records as living in a Glenwood Avenue apartment he owns in Raleigh. He owns numerous properties in Johnston County, where his address is a post office box in Smithfield.
Levinson says on his page on the professional networking website linkedin.com that he graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1998 and from Campbell University’s law school in 2003.
He is listed as owning the Levinson Law Firm since 2003, and he is listed on the website of Levinson & Axford in Raleigh.
U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty Jr. is scheduled to sentence Levinson in Winston-Salem on May 19. The maximum sentence for the conspiracy conviction would be five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.