Sotolongo and Musselwhite found guilty in Volusia County mortgage fraud trial; Garrett acquitted

Ramara Garrwtt and James Sotolongo / Headline Surfer®Photo for Headline Surfer® / Ramara Garrett and James Sotolongo, of greater Daytona Beach couple who have a baby girl in addition to five older children from their previous respective relationships, may have but a few precious months together before Sotolongo is sentenced to what could be a prison sentence of at least five years, and possibly twice that and maybe more  later this summer in the wake of his guilty verdict and her acquittal in US District Court.  

ORLANDO -- A jury found James Fidel Sotolongo and Stephanie Musselwhite guilty on multiple counts of conspiring to defraud four lending institutions close to $13 million in seven upscale home mortgages in greater Daytona Beach, but Ramara Garrett, the former realtor, was acquitted outright in highly emotional verdicts earlier Monday on the second day of deliberations.

In realizing the jury had spared his longtime live-in girlfriend and mother of their 1-year-old daughter, the 48-year-old Sotolongo showed contrition, mouthing in the direction of the jury, "Thank you!"

Garrett, 36, broke out in tears, while Musselwhite, 51, stared straight ahead a good 5-minutes seemingly stunned as if in a trance, looking straight ahead as her attorney Bruce Zimet bowed his head and put his arm around her. The jury of seven men and five women knocked on the door at 3:45 p.m. and let the bailiff know they had reached their unanimous verdicts, completing the second day of deliberations stemming from multi-count indictment.

Sentencing was set for July 28, with pre-sentence investigations ordered up in the interim for Sotolongo and Musselwhite, each of whom could get a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, but with sentencing guidelines, 12-15 years and five to eight years, respectively.

None of the trio took the stand during the two week trial, in which the government relied on the testimony of a fourth indicted defendant, Christophwr Mencis, a North Carolin mortgage broker who copped a guilty plea and testified for the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence.

There also was a procession o unindicted co-conspirators, led by the likes of Sidney Coton of Deltona, described as "straw men" or buyers of the properties in a mortgage ring described by the FBI as led by Sotolongo under a shell company, American Signature Homes, with Musselwhite complicit in title insurance role and Garrett showing most of the luxury homes.

Editor's Note: Headline Surfer® spoke exclusively with James Fidel Sotolongo and Ramara Garrett after the jury verdicts and will bring you a comprehensive follow-up story Tuesday. Included will be a timelime and a breakout of the legal implications to follow in this case as well as updates on two companion investigations -- what's expected to be a  wrapped up review by the State Attorney's Office in Daytona Beach involving a former partner in the couple's Waverly Media operation's in-kind campaign contributions to politicians and a third investigation, largely seen as political, involving the Volisia County Council and the Waverly campaign connection.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.