Robin and Tony Pickett, real estate agents in Indianapolis, discovered a large number of big mortgages registered in the names of people living outside Indiana. They became suspicious.
"Once we saw the values that they had been sold for we immediately thought there was something a little strange about this," Tony Pickett said. "So the next day I went over to the properties and did an assessment myself. And what we found was most of them were abandoned. Most of them were in total disrepair."
Robert Penn had secured appraisals of the properties, which the Picketts said were as much as four times their value. One of the five properties in Thompson's name was worth only $29,000, but the mortgage issued was for $139,000.
According to the Pickets, Robert Penn pocketed huge sums of money by purchasing dilapidated homes at market value, while arranging mortgages of far greater value in the names of his investors. The difference between the two became his profit.
In June, New York-based Countrywide Home Loans Inc., the nation's largest home lender, filed a lawsuit in Indiana's Marion Superior Court, charging Robert Penn with masterminding the fraud.
When Beulah Penn was deposed by another lender involved in the case earlier this week, she decided to invoke her right to silence, even refusing to answer when asked if Robert Penn was her son.
"Nightline" has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing members of other investment groups started by Robert Penn in Michigan and Indiana. Sharon Penn has closed her hair salon.