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Feb. 27--The co-founder of a defunct Chicago escrow company was indicted on federal fraud charges on Wednesday for allegedly engaging in a Ponzi-like scheme and using more than $500,000 of customer funds for personal expenses and to operate other businesses.
Derek Lurie, was charged with five counts of mail fraud. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Lurie's company, American Escrow, which had offices on West Randolph and North May streets, went out of business in 2009. The company didn't issue refunds and left some of its customers with delinquent tax and insurance bills.
"This is a very stale investigation and a wrong-headed indictment. This is not a criminal case," said Thomas Durkin, an attorney representing American Escrow.
The indictment alleges Lurie used some of the money it collected from customers to cover personal expenses, such as car payments and the costs of renovating a condominium in Miami.
American Escrow, which operated at a "significant deficit," survived by juggling new escrow funds to pay off tax and insurance payments due at different times throughout the year, according to the indictment.
Lurie, 40, is due in court on March 11 for his arraignment.
Earlier this month, Jacqueline Cruz, a former American Escrow employee, was indicted for allegedly fraudulently obtaining more than $400,000 from the company.
Cruz, who oversaw the payment of customers' property taxes and private mortgage insurance, wrote 122 company checks to herself between May 2005 and March 2009, according to her indictment.
Cruz, 38, is now living in Okinawa, Japan. She pleaded not guilty on Feb. 19 to three counts of mail fraud.
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