An Indian-American mortgage broker and Bollywood film promoter has been sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding banks of $33 million and cheating fellow immigrants from Indian community with phony home loans.
"I'm very sorry about my conduct and the embarrassment to my family," Vijay K. Taneja, 48, told the US federal court in Alexandria, on the outskirts of Washington, at his sentencing Friday.
"I fully accept my responsibilities, and I am really very sorry."
Taneja was a prominent member of his community, helping people with mortgages while promoting the culture of his homeland by promoting shows with Bollywood stars.
A stage producer from Mumbai wrote to the court on his behalf, saying that Taneja had played a role "to enlighten the Asian communities overseas of their cultures and traditions".
Federal prosecutors revealed in November, however, that Taneja's persona was a sham, saying some of the money might have financed his high-flying cinematic endeavours.
Local residents became unwitting pawns as Taneja obtained phony home loans in their names and damaged their credit, prosecutors said.
In November, Taneja pleaded guilty in the US District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in what prosecutors said was the largest mortgage fraud case in at least two decades.
Taneja immigrated to the US at age 10 when his diplomat father was posted here, according to court documents. He later became a naturalised citizen and worked at several banks before launching his own mortgage company in 1990.
His early clients were from the close-knit Indian community, many of whom were purchasing their first homes with his help.
Taneja's reputation grew when he founded a company called Elite Entertainment that brought glamorous stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai to the US.
At their peak, the galas attracted more than 10,000 people. Taneja began investing in Indian films as well.
About 2001, however, Taneja began obtaining phony mortgages along with genuine ones, prosecutors said. Four banks lost millions, while ordinary citizens found their credit scores ruined with numerous fraudulent mortgages in their names, they said.
In 2003, flush with cash from an overheated real estate market, Taneja built a palatial home that ended up on the auction block in November and sold for $3.9 million as part of ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. When Taneja filed for bankruptcy in June last year, he said he was $77 million in debt.