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Published: Tuesday, 2/6/2007

Businessman is due in court in alleged scam

Haukedahl Haukedahl

A former Toledo area businessman is expected to appear in federal court today on charges of money laundering and mail fraud in connection with an alleged insurance scam that targeted real estate agents and appraisers nationwide.

Mark S. Haukedahl, 60, was taken into custody Sunday when he arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport from the Dominican Republic, said Seth Uram, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Mr. Haukedahl, who is being held at the Lucas County jail, is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong in Toledo.

He apparently returned to Ohio as part of negotiations with federal prosecutors. He had been living in the Dominican Republic full time for the last three years, Mr. Uram said.

Until 2004, Mr. Haukedahl operated the Noble Group and the American Real Estate Association, which were based in Springfield Township. They billed themselves as trade associations that arranged discounted professional liability insurance.

But lawsuits filed later claimed that the insurance was bogus, and that Mr. Haukedahl paid small claims to keep the scheme going while pocketing other premiums.

Some 3,000 real estate agents and appraisers were left without liability coverage when the alleged scheme collapsed in 2003 and early 2004, according to court documents. A federal judge in a civil suit in New York described the activities as a "flagrant, intentional, willful, and despicable fraud."

Douglas Ritson, a onetime Toledo attorney who handled claims for the real estate organizations until 2001, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He is awaiting sentencing.

For many years, Mr. Haukedahl also operated the former Haukedahl Foundation, a charity that ran Ohio-sanctioned bingo games until they were shut down by state authorities in 2004.

Then-Attorney General Jim Petro said few of the proceeds went to charity, and alleged that some of the games were rigged.

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