Chael Sonnen‘s colorful life of big-time collegiate wrestling and ultimate fighting detoured on Monday into a darker realm.
The 33-year-old Portlander pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a single count of money laundering. The charges stemmed from a 2006 home sale in which Sonnen and others involved in the deal steered a $69,091 kickback to the buyer.
The government is recommending Sonnen be sentenced to two years of probation.
It’s been a difficult six months for Sonnen.
After years in the trenches, Sonnen got a title shot in August against Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Sonnen dominated the first five rounds of the match. But Silva caught Sonnen in a triangle chokehold, forcing Sonnen to submit.
Weeks before that fight, Sonnen pulled out as a candidate for Oregon House District 37. Sonnen, a political novice, entered and won the Republican primary. But he ended his campaign with oblique references to legal problems.
"A 2006 legal issue has arisen that needs my immediate attention," Sonnen wrote in a statement published on the Fight! website. "I am not at liberty to disclose the details, but my name was involved in a real estate case that requires a ruling. If the ruling is adverse, I would be disqualified from running for office until 2011."
Before getting into ultimate fighting, Sonnen, a West Linn native, was a star wrestler at the University of Oregon. Sonnen was an All-American, the university’s last one before it eliminated the wrestling program. He was also a two time University National Champion in Greco Roman wrestling and a United States Olympic Team alternate.
Sonnen has worked in real estate in addition to his ultimate fighting regimen.
He could not be reached Monday. His attorney, Ron Hoevet, declined to comment.
The charge against Sonnen stems from the June 2006 sale of a home at 11249 S.E. Rolling Hills Lane in Portland. The lender, Decision One Mortgage, agreed to send more than $69,000 of the loan proceeds to a company called Crown Plumbing, a company owned by Sonnen’s mother, for some repair work on the house.
The repair work was never done. Instead, the money went as a kickback to the straw buyer of the house.
Straw buyers were a common phenomenon during the housing boom. Mortgage scammers typically recruited individuals willing to serve as front-men and women and would secure a loan for a home with a falsified loan application. They would then use various means to skim money off the top of the transaction.
Sonnen was not alone in this transaction. Government prosecutors allege he cooperated with Joel Rosabal and Chadwick Amsden, two mortgage brokers with Lighthouse Financial Group, a now-defunct mortgage brokerage formerly based in Vancouver.
Rosabal and Amsden in May were indicted and charged with multiple counts of money laundering, mail fraud and other charges, in part for their role in the sale of the house on Southeast Rolling Hills Lane.
At least five people who worked with, or for, Lighthouse have been indicted on mortgage fraud charges.
As part of his plea deal, Sonnen agreed to give up his Realtor’s license and pay a $10,000 fine, said Michelle Holman Kerin, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case.