12 indicted in alleged Southern California ‘green’ loan and mortgage fraud scheme

LOS ANGELES — A dozen people have been indicted in connection with an alleged mortgage fraud and “green” loan scheme that operated throughout Southern California and resulted in losses of about $15 million, the California Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday.

The 133-count grand jury indictment, handed up April 26, alleges that the crimes occurred in Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties.

The indictment charges the defendants with a variety of counts, including conspiracy, mortgage fraud, grand theft, identity theft, forgery, filing a false or forged document and money laundering.

The defendants allegedly exploited the Yrgene Energy Fund and Renew Funding, companies that provide funding to licensed contractors for energy- efficient home improvements for homeowners, and used false identities to get mortgage loans from conventional banks and hard money lenders, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“The allegations against these defendants charge a pattern of disregard for the law and willingness to go as far as stealing the identities of the deceased just to further their scheme,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the charges. “Our office will seek to hold these defendants accountable for their alleged actions.”

Those named in the indictment are: Tamara Dadyan, 39, Richard Ayvazyan, 42, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Grigor Tatoian, 50, Andranik Petrosyan, 46, Arshak Bartoumian, 48, Artashes Martirosyan, 43, Lilit Malyan, 39, Lubia Carrillo, 41, Rosa Zarate, 49, Estephanie Reynoso, 31, and Vanessa Bell, 60.

Eleven of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, with Malyan due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment May 18.

The case stemmed from a multi-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, with assistance from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The attorney general lauded the two agencies for “their work to put an end to an extensive, six-year fraud scheme that resulted in the theft of an estimated $15 million.”

“If you were a victim or have information please call 213-486-6979,” said a tweet from LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza.

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Driver charged with gross vehicular manslaughter in Santa Ana crash that killed a passenger in his car

SANTA ANA — A 22-year-old man was charged Wednesday with gross vehicular manslaughter for a collision in Santa Ana a year and a half ago that killed a passenger in his vehicle.

Manuel Jesus Galindo was behind the wheel of a 2013 Hyundai Sonata that was southbound on Newhope Street about 10:50 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, when the sedan collided with another car and slammed into a street pole at Westminster Boulevard, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

The brunt of the impact was on the passenger side of the car, where 20-year-old Kobe Kidwell of Santa Ana was sitting, Bertagna said. Kidwell died of his injuries.

Galindo sustained serious injuries in the crash, and two women in the back seat of his car also were injured and taken to an area hospital, Bertagna said.

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Man pleads guilty in ‘affinity fraud’ scheme in Garden Grove

WESTMINSTER — A 44-year-old man pleaded guilty Wednesday and was immediately sentenced to time served in custody and ordered to pay $2 million in restitution for a $3 million affinity fraud scheme in Garden Grove.

Lo Van Tran of Fremont was sentenced to 630 days in jail, or time already served since his arrest in May 2019. He was also placed on two years of formal probation.

Tran faces 12 years in prison if he fails to complete probation, his attorney Cameron Talley said.

Before his arrest, Tran paid back $800,000 and has chipped in another $100,000 now, Talley said.

“He came forward and told the people he defrauded them,” Talley said. “He didn’t mean to steal their money. He used their money to start another business and thought he could pay them back.”

Tran collected the money from more than 10 investors, most of them Vietnamese, between June 2017 and February 2018, according to Garden Grove Police Department Lt. Carl Whitney.

Tran promised a predetermined return based on the amount invested in his scheme, which involved a company he owned and operated called SmartBuy Outlet Inc., which had two storefronts in Garden Grove, Whitney said.

“The business also operated under the name SavMax Solutions Inc.,” Whitney said. “As a side business related to SmartBuy Outlet Inc., Tran claimed to have a partnership with a third-party logistics company known as Zyp Corporation, where he would facilitate the purchase and sales of large amounts of Apple products.”

Turns out Zyp Corporation never existed, Whitney said.

“He also fabricated bank and business documents to make his business appear legitimate,” Whitney said.

Affinity fraud involves preying upon victims from the same identifiable groups, “such as minorities and professional groups,” Whitney explained.

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L.A. County brother and sister arrested, accused in real estate scam tied to fraudulent listings and sales

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California brother-and-sister team were arrested Tuesday on federal charges alleging they orchestrated a $6 million real estate fraud scam in which they listed homes without the owners’ consent and collected money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.

Adolfo Schoneke, 43, of Torrance, and Bianca Gonzalez, also known as Blanca Schoneke, 38, of Walnut, each pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a nine-count indictment unsealed after their arrests.

If convicted of seven counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, Schoneke and Gonzalez each would face up to 162 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A June 1 trial date was set. Both defendants will remain in custody at least until detention hearings scheduled Friday for Schoneke and next Tuesday for Gonzalez.

According to the indictment, Schoneke and Gonzalez, with the help of co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast.

The indictment alleges Schoneke and Gonzalez found properties that they would list — even though many, in fact, were not for sale, and they did not have authority to list them for sale — and then marketed the properties as short sales providing opportunities for purchases at below-market prices.

Using other people’s broker’s licenses, Schoneke and Gonzalez allegedly listed the properties on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service. In some cases, the indictment alleges, the homes were marketed through open houses that co-conspirators were able to host after tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.

As part of the alleged scheme, the co-conspirators accepted multiple offers for each of the not-for-sale properties, hiding this fact from the victims and instead leading each of the victims to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted, according to federal prosecutors.

The co-conspirators allegedly were able to string along the victims — sometimes for years — by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.

The indictment also alleges that Schoneke and Gonzalez directed office workers to open bank accounts in the office workers’ names. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full “purchase price” to these bank accounts after receiving forged short sale approval letters, prosecutors allege.

Schoneke and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from those accounts and give it to them — a procedure that allowed the defendants to take possession of the fraud proceeds while hiding their involvement in the scheme.

Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million.

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Man gets 5 years in prison for using online sex ‘bait ads’ to extort men in Southern California

LOS ANGELES — A 29-year-old man was sentenced Monday to five years behind bars for using the internet to extort at least $150,000 from men in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and elsewhere who responded to online “bait ads” offering gay sex services.

Over a period of six years, Tyler Buchanan purchased ads on Craigslist, Backpage and other websites that appeared to offer sex services for hire, primarily targeting gay men in multiple cities and states, including numerous locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Once a potential victim responded to Buchanan by contacting a listed phone number, the Nevada-based defendant would search online for personal information on the victim, then respond by text to elicit either conversation that was sexual in nature and/or an agreement to engage in a sex act for money, according to his plea agreement filed in Los Angeles federal court.

After a text conversation that could be potentially embarrassing to the victim, Buchanan would threaten to disclose the texts — which often established the man’s sexual interest — as well as threaten to report the victim to law enforcement for solicitation of prostitution — unless extortion money was paid.

“He tormented numerous victims over many years,” said U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, who ordered Buchanan to pay restitution of $67,567 to men who were extorted.

Buchanan pleaded guilty in downtown Los Angeles in January 2020 to federal felony charges of using the internet to facilitate unlawful activity, transmitting threatening communications with intent to extort, and receiving and disposing of extortion proceeds.

In a letter to the court, the defendant admitted that when he began running the scheme, “I was a damaged and angry person and desperate for money … I broke the law and acted like a person I’m not proud of. I took money from other people and I scared them.”

Buchanan posted more than 1,300 bait ads for the scheme, demanding that victims make monthly payments ranging from $100 to $4,000.

Among his victims was a Los Angeles man from whom more than $22,225 was extorted. In one of his first threats, Buchanan texted the man, “You’ll pay for it one way or another. You choose.”

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Man gets 5 years in prison for hit-and-run that killed bicyclist in Aliso Viejo

SANTA ANA — A 39-year-old Lake Forest man has been sentenced to five years in prison for a hit-and-run collision in Aliso Viejo that killed a bicyclist.

Rogelio Martinez-Cuin on Dec. 2 admitted one count each of gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury, both felonies, as well as a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended or revoked license due to a DUI, according to court records. He was sentenced Thursday.

Martinez-Cuin ran a red light, was inattentive and driving at an unsafe speed, according to the criminal complaint.

Michael David Tomlinson of Aliso Viejo, 51, was riding on Westridge Drive, crossing Woods Canyon Drive, when he was struck by a Volvo about 6:40 a.m. Jan. 30, 2019, according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The driver kept going, but witnesses gave deputies a vehicle description, she said.

The vehicle was found about a mile away, and deputies arrested Martinez-Cuin a short distance from the Volvo, Braun said.

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Anaheim shooting leaves man critically injured, suspect charged

SANTA ANA  — A 25-year-old Anaheim man was charged Monday with shooting another man in the face, leaving the victim fighting for his life in a hospital.

Angel Avalos was charged with attempted murder and assault with a firearm, both felonies, with sentencing enhancement allegations for inflicting great bodily injury on the victim, the personal use of a firearm and attempted premeditated murder.

Police were called about 1 a.m. Friday to the 800 block of West Gramercy Avenue, where officers found the victim, who sustained a gunshot wound to the face, Anaheim Police Department Sgt. Shane Carringer said.

Avalos barricaded himself nearby in an apartment for about four hours, Carringer said. The standoff ended when police gassed the apartment, prompting the suspect to jump out of a second-floor window and land on a car below, Carringer said.

A canine unit dog helped apprehend the suspect, Carringer said.

Avalos knew his alleged victim, but the motive for the shooting was not released, Carringer said.

The victim was hospitalized in critical condition Monday but was stable, Carringer said.

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2 insurance agents in Orange County arrested, accused of defrauding investors of more than $4 million

SANTA ANA — A 63-year-old Orange County insurance executive pleaded not guilty Monday to charges in an alleged multi-million dollar investment fraud while another co-defendant awaits arraignment this month.

Robert Andrew Lotter of Newport Beach denied 20 felony charges including making an untrue statement or omission in connection with the offer or sale of a security, use of a device and scheme or artifice to defraud with sentencing enhancement allegations of aggravated white collar crime, according to court records.

Co-defendant Charles Albert Major, 71, of Irvine, an insurance agent who worked for Lotter, was charged with 27 felonies including making an untrue statement or omission in connection with the purchase or sale of a security and burglary with sentencing enhancement allegations for aggravated white collar crime, according to court records.

The two, who were arrested Nov. 24, were being held without bail, according to jail records.

In court papers, state Department of Insurance investigator Braelyn Velasco said Lotter “fraudulently sold securities to 20 victims by means of omission, misrepresentation, and through the use of a device, scheme, or artifice, Lotter’s victims lost $4,087,811.04.”

From May 2003 to May 2018, Lotter “sold investments in his companies’ eAgency Inc. and Mymobilewatchdog Inc. by the use of misleading marketing materials and tactics that led victims to believe Lotter’s insurance agency was affiliated with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, a state agency that provides retirement pension benefits to California public school educators,” according to Velasco.

Lotter created My Mobile Watchdog, a Newport Beach-based company that helps parents use the app to keep track of web activity on their children’s cellphone.

“Victims responded to the misleading materials with the believe they were requesting a retirement analysis from (the state retirement system),” Velasco alleged.

Accredited investors were then solicited to invest in the defendant’s companies, Velasco said.

Lotter “inappropriate used his agency to access customers’ private financial information to determine if the customer was accredited, in order to solicit the customers’ investments” in the defendants’ companies, Velasco alleged.

Lotter also dangled “unrealistic and inflated financial projects of his companies” to potential investors, Velasco alleged.

Lotter also “failed to properly disclose to all victims” that investments in his companies were “high risk,” Velasco alleged.

“At least 10 victims stated there were no such discussions of the risk involved, or that such discussions did not identify the investment as high-risk,” Velasco alleged. “Some victims were told there was no chance they would lose any of their investment.”

Velasco further alleged that Lotter and his “companies continued to lull victims throughout the years into believing eAgency Inc and/or Mymobilewatchdog Inc. was making significant progress and investors would see substantial returns soon. Nearly every victim stated they were told investors would see returns within one to two years. The same message was given to victims from the early 2000s until 2018.”

Major was scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 16 in the jail courtroom in Santa Ana.

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Costa Mesa driver gets 7 years in prison for fatal alcohol-related hit-and-run crash

SANTA ANA — A 51-year-old Costa Mesa man pleaded guilty Tuesday and was immediately sentenced to seven years in prison for a fatal hit-and-run collision in Costa Mesa nearly two years ago.

Bernardo Alvarez Zalpa admitted felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence, hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury and driving with a blood-alcohol level higher than .08% or more causing injury.

He also admitted sentencing enhancements for fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter and inflicting great bodily injury on the victim.

Zalpa was driving the evening of Dec. 4, 2018, south in the fast lane of the 55 Freeway, just north of Del Mar Avenue, when his 2002 Honda Accord veered across the freeway and crashed into a 2017 Mini Cooper just after 6 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. The Honda then crashed into a 1997 Toyota 4Runner. The 4Runner overturned, ejecting 48-year-old Jose Olguin of Orange, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Accord veered back onto the freeway before the driver exited at Victoria Street, where Costa Mesa police detained him until CHP officers arrived.

The driver of the Mini Cooper, a 41-year-old San Clemente man, escaped injury.

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O.C. man gets six years in prison for altering debit cards to steal money from ATMs in Louisiana

SHREVEPORT, La. — A California man was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison for using altered debit cards to steal money from ATMs in Louisiana, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook said in a news release.

Dennis Busch, 40, of of Costa Mesa, was sentenced in federal court in Shreveport, Van Hook’s release said.

Busch was ordered to pay more than $63,000 in restitution.

The release says Busch admitted in July that he altered and re-encoded Capital One debit cards and used them along with account holders’ personal identification numbers he had obtained. Prosecutors said the illegal withdrawals took place in 2018 and 2019.

“The investigation revealed that some of the account holders had previously responded to text messages that were part of a phishing scam, which compromised their banking information. Capital One reimbursed the account holders and ultimately sustained the loss,” the release said.

 

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