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Former UFC Contender Chael Sonnen Pleads Guilty to Federal Money Laundering Charges

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According to the Columbian, former UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen has plead guilty to federal money laundering charges:

An Oregon real estate agent has pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection with a mortgage fraud case involving Vancouver-based Lighthouse Financial Group, which also did business under the name Crown Point Financial Services.

Chael Sonnen, 33, of West Linn, Ore., entered the plea Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland. He will be sentenced March 28. The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

According to a news release, Sonnen acted as the real estate agent in a transaction involving a home in Portland, and submitted a false letter and sales agreement instructing the title company to disburse $69,000 to a contractor for plumbing repairs. However, in a deal arranged by Lighthouse employees, $65,000 of the money was actually kicked back to the buyer.

This latest development follows Sonnen's positive test for elevated testosterone levels after his UFC 117 loss to Anderson Silva. It also seems to run parallel with the story of Sonnen bowing out of a political race in Oregon due to a "legal issue" in 2006. He told Mike Straka in an exclusive HDNet interview following his hearing with the California Athletic Commission that there was a legal issue, but it was being taken care of by his lawyers. Perhaps this is a part of a plea deal in the long-term, but this doesn't look good for Sonnen. 

UPDATE [from Luke Thomas]: Here's the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon on Chael Sonnen's crime

"This office will continue to aggressively prosecute real estate professionals who committed the mortgage fraud that contributed to this country's economic downturn and wreaked havoc on our community's housing market. We entrusted these professionals to honestly broker real estate transactions and instead, they defrauded lending institutions throughout the country and left financial ruin in their wake," said Dwight Holton, U. S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

Marcus Williams, the Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigations for the Pacific Northwest said, "West Linn residents, and other residents throughout the Portland/Vancouver area, can rest assured knowing that federal law enforcement agencies take mortgage fraud very seriously because it played a major role in almost crippling this nation's banking system just a few years ago."

UPDATE [from Leland Roling]: OregonLive.com writer Jeff Manning reports in his article that there is in fact a plea deal in place:

The government is recommending Sonnen be sentenced to two years of probation.
...
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.

UPDATE [from Nick Thomas]: Chael Sonnen vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama in the works for UFC 128 according to MMA Junkie:

Sonnen's sentencing is set to begin 10 days after he is expected to fight Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 128, according to sources close to the event, which today informed MMAjunkie.com of the pending booking just as news of the legal trouble broke.

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