A Bryn Mawr businessman was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail yesterday for his role in a scheme to bilk homeowners, finance companies and title insurers in connection with mortgage refinancings.

Jay Berger, 56, of Bryn Mawr, apologized to the government, his family and victims, saying he had "destroyed" his family and his reputation and "betrayed" those with whom he worked.

But U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson said Berger had "come belatedly" to his remorse and "caused grave injury to the homeowners who trusted you."

Then, despite objections by his defense lawyer, Jerome Brown, Baylson ordered Berger taken into custody immediately.

"This case calls for immediate incarceration. This has to come to an end, and today's the end," Baylson said, adding, "he's just been in denial too long. Today is the end of denial and the beginning of reality."

Berger pleaded guilty in August to one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution.

Authorities said Berger bilked homeowners, finance companies and title insurance companies out of approximately $4.6 million between April 2000 and December 2004.

Court papers said Berger acted as a mortgage broker, settlement agent and title insurance agent for real-estate refinancings.

Berger or his assistants would attend closings related to loan refinancings. Lending institutions would wire money to an account in Berger's name and he was obligated to pay off the original mortgage.

Authorities said that in at least 14 instances, Berger did not pay off the first mortgage, as the homeowner, the first mortgage company, the new mortgage company and the title insurance company expected him to do.

Instead, he would make some mortgage payments on the first mortgage but keep the bulk of the money for himself.

Thus, homeowners were unknowingly liable on two mortgages instead of one. Finance companies that held the existing mortgages were not paid off when the homeowner refinanced, and title companies were subject to losses when homeowners were not in a position to pay on more than one mortgage for the same property.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Judy Goldstein Smith said a number of homeowners suffered, and faced years of civil litigation, destroyed credit or foreclosure on their homes.

One of those homeowner-victims testified yesterday.

Patricia Simpson was contacted in June 2004 by her first mortgage holder to tell her her mortgage was in arrears.

She thought the note had been paid off when she refinanced in April 2004.

Simpson told Baylson the experience has been a "total nightmare," and she was unable to buy anything on credit or get college or car loans.

Simpson only recently learned that the first mortgage on her home was finally settled. *