Bank president admits falsifying records for real estate loans

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Steven Cook, the former president of SouthernTrust Bank in southern Illinois, has admitted to falsifying bank records to facilitate real estate loans. Cook pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Benton to three felony counts of aiding and abetting the making of a false bank entry. At the time, he was also on the bank’s board and a member of its loan committee.

Cook admitted to fraudulently facilitating three real estate sales to Lawler and Maze Properties LLC in 2022. In one transaction, Cook approved a loan that funded the sale of seven commercial rental properties in Williamson and Franklin counties. This transaction was falsely presented as a refinancing deal. The buyers, Lawler and Maze, were not using any cash for the purchase. Cook and others backdated documents to falsely indicate a purchase date of February 1, 2022, with an inflated price of $545,152. The actual sales price was $436,122.

In August 2022, Cook facilitated another real estate transaction involving four properties. The sales price was falsely listed as $413,000 instead of the actual $330,400, and the contract falsely stated that the buyer would supply $82,600 in cash.

In November 2022, Cook facilitated an additional loan for a property in Marion. Bank documents falsely stated that the borrowers would supply $21,500 in cash. Cook was aware that these false details were presented to the bank board for approval.

Cook’s sentencing hearing is set for September 19. His sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

Lawler and Maze are owned by Justin Maze and David Lawler. They entered a pretrial diversion program, acknowledging their involvement in the criminal conduct by aiding and abetting Zanotti and Cook. Maze resigned from his position as Williamson County Circuit Clerk and agreed not to seek re-election to any public office. Lawler’s conduct was reported to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

The FBI Springfield Office and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General investigated the case. Special Attorney Hal Goldsmith from the Eastern District of Missouri prosecuted the case, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois was recused.

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