CHICAGO (TIP): Orlando’s Indian-American businessman Nikesh Patel has signaled that he could plead guilty in the $179 million loan fraud case that rocked the local business world when he was arrested in September 2014. Previously entering a not-guilty plea, Patel has been cooperating with authorities. His change-of-plea hearing is set for Dec. 6 before a federal judge in Chicago.
Patel is accused of selling about 26 fake loans to a Milwaukee financial firm, Pennant Management. The indictment, like the FBI allegations before that, accuses Patel of falsely saying his loans were guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Investigators have recovered about $100 million by selling off Patel’s hotels, cars and other property. But the scope and damage of his alleged crimes widened over time too. Orlando restaurant Mingo’s, which Patel invested in, closed almost immediately. Pennant Management has since closed its doors. Others who invested with Pennant have claimed losses directly tied to the Patel allegations, including the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund, which recently sued the USDA for $50 million. The USDA has denied responsibility for the fake loans.
Attorneys for Patel, including Orlando-based Mark NeJame, have emphasized Patel’s cooperation. The main investigator on the civil case, court-appointed receiver Patrick Cavanaugh, has stated in documents filed with the court that recovery of the Patel money was made possible because Patel decided to cooperate. Patel is accused of using Pennant’s money to buy five hotels, three in Orlando, and personal luxury items. The hotels were auctioned off to raise $80 million.
Patel, an Orlando businessman, was arrested on charges of loan fraud on Sept. 30, 2014. Patel bought five hotels and several other properties with the money from the alleged fraud. He paid just over $4 million for the biggest home, at 9850 Laurel Valley Drive on the shores of Lake Butler, near Windermere. The area is home to many celebrities and CEOs. A sale on that home closed last year for $3.25 million.