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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Seal Beach man loses $140,000 in foreign lottery scam

SEAL BEACH — Authorities on Tuesday sought information about a lottery scam that defrauded a Seal Beach man out of about $140,000.

Seal Beach Police Department officers responded Friday to a call of theft by false pretenses, said the department’s Lt. Nick Nicholas.

The man who made the call told officers he received a letter in 2020 postmarked from Portugal that claimed he had won the lottery in Spain, Nicholas said.

The letter, which contained logos and images similar to those used by the California Lottery, claimed the man had to pay “upfront tax money” to claim his winnings.

The man sent money to the suspects using the United States Postal Service, Nicholas said. However, the suspects demanded additional payment from the man to “secure the lottery winnings.”

The man sent cashier’s checks to multiple individuals in the United States and Portugal over the course of several months. He discovered he was the victim of a scam after he sent about $140,000 and received nothing in return.

The Seal Beach Police Department, in cooperation with the FBI and international officials, is investigating the scam in an attempt to identify the suspects.

Anyone with information on the incident can contact Seal Beach Police Department Detective Jon Ainley at 562-799-4100, ext. 1113 or jainleysealbeachca.gov

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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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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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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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L.A. man sent to prison for running a lottery fraud scheme targeting Latina grandmothers in Southern California

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles man was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison for running what prosecutors called a “depraved and cruel” fraud scheme that targeted Latina grandmothers throughout the Southland in a scam involving fake winning lottery tickets.

Tito Lozada, a 50-year-old Colombian national and Los Angeles resident, was also found jointly responsible with his co-defendants for $190,422 in restitution to victims. Lozada pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Prosecutors wrote that Lozada personally selected elderly women “with particular vulnerabilities” and exploited those weaknesses for his own personal gain.

Three additional defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and were previously sentenced to prison terms ranging from 33 months to time already served.

Lozada and the others were initially charged in state court with trying to scam a 66-year-old Long Beach woman, but federal prosecutors who took the case said all four defendants were linked to over a dozen incidents since 2017 in which older women were targeted and robbed of cash and valuables in a scheme known as the “Latin Lotto Scam.”

The October 2019 federal criminal complaint referenced crimes across Southern California, including in the cities of Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro, Garden Grove, Ontario, Santa Ana and Chula Vista.

The defendants approached Latina women who ranged in age from 65 to 85 years old while they were alone in public, and speaking Spanish, convinced them that they had a winning lottery ticket but needed help cashing it because they were undocumented. They would then ask the victim for money and promised they would pay her back, including some extra cash, upon cashing in the ticket.

To further con the victim, one of the co-conspirators would pretend to call a lottery official who was, in fact, a member of the plot and would falsely confirm that the fake ticket in question was a winning ticket that could be released only with a deposit or fee.

The defendants then would drive the victim to her home or bank so that she could get valuable items like jewelry or large sums of cash to pay the sham lottery ticket deposit. Once they had the victim’s money or jewelry in hand, the schemers would create a ruse to get the victim out of the car and flee, taking the valuables with them.

The fraud ring attempted to rip off at least four elderly women per day, and were out looking for potential victims for a minimum of four days per week, according to prosecutors, who called the scheme “depraved and cruel.”

In total, over the course of the nearly 2 1/2-year conspiracy, at least 16 victims were defrauded, causing losses of almost $200,000, federal prosecutors said.

“This was an organized group that singled out older women for the sole purpose of ripping off these vulnerable victims with bogus promises of a big payday,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “While law enforcement will do everything possible to bring criminals like this to justice, this case should serve as a reminder to potential victims and their family members that no one should ever pay an upfront fee in relation to any prize, sweepstakes or lottery.”

Co-defendants Maria Luisa Henao, 44, a dual citizen of Colombia and the United States, Mercedes Montanez, 76, and Luisa Camargo, 40, pleaded guilty and received prison sentences of 33 months, 27 months and time served, respectively. Montanez and Camargo are Colombian nationals who were living in Los Angeles at the time of their arrest.

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O.C. man gets 46 months in prison for $3 million investment scam

SANTA ANA — An Orange County man was sentenced Monday to 46 months in federal prison for running a program that purported to offer short-term loans, but was nothing more than an investment scam that caused more than $3 million in losses to victims.

J. Michael Clancy, 58, of Rancho Santa Margarita, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who also ordered him to pay $3,003,084 in restitution. Clancy pleaded guilty in March 2019 to a single-count information charging him with wire fraud, according to the U.S, Attorney’s Office.

From July 2014 until July 2016, Clancy operated Multiplied Equities and Quantum Capital California LP, both located in Lake Forest, which he claimed offered short-term loans secured by real estate, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Clancy sold partnership interests to investors, telling them their funds would be used to make short-term loans. He further promised to sell the loans to outside investors, which would earn profits for his victims and free up funds to make additional short-term loans, prosecutors said.

Instead of using his victims’ funds as promised, Clancy used the money to operate a house-flipping scheme, purchase a personal residence in Silverado Canyon, pay family members, and make “interest” payments to earlier investors in the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In total, 11 victims lost $3,003,084 as a result of the scheme.

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3 family members from O.C. sentenced to jail for home loan modification scheme

SANTA ANA — A 43-year-old Yorba Linda man, his brother and the brother’s wife received jail terms Tuesday as part of their involvement in a $390,000 scheme involving loan modification companies that preyed on mostly Spanish-speaking victims throughout the state.

The ring leader, Carlos Jose Centeno, who pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to a year in jail and placed on seven years of formal probation. He is scheduled to report to jail Oct. 30, according to court records.

Centeno’s brother, Ricardo Torres Centeno, 36, of Anaheim, who also pleaded guilty in January, was sentenced to 150 days in jail and placed on seven years probation. He is also scheduled to report to jail on Oct. 30.

Ricardo Centeno’s wife, Lizeth Garcia Arzate, 37, who also pleaded guilty in January was sentenced to 90 days in jail and placed on three years of formal probation. She is scheduled to report to jail by Feb. 12, according to court records.

Co-defendants Hector Alfredo Valdivia, 55, of Lake Elsinore, and Susie Rabadan, 36, of Anaheim, were scheduled for sentencing Sept. 9, according to court records.

About two dozen victims were bilked out of fees for helping them to renegotiate their home loans, Orange County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors said when charges were filed in January 2015.

Carlos Centeno was the ringleader, prosecutors said. He owned Foreclosure Prevention Department in Irvine and was an executive for Orange County-based Debt Settlers of America.

It is illegal to charge upfront fees for loan modification services, prosecutors said.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department led the investigation, prosecutors said.

Valdivia and Rabadan were considered lesser players in the scams from the end of 2009 through 2012, prosecutors said.

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2 O.C. men sentenced to prison for scamming distressed homeowners during ’08 recession

SANTA ANA — Two Orange County men were sentenced Wednesday to five and 12 years in prison for their roles in a Santa Ana-based home loan modification scheme during the Great Recession in 2008.

Aminullah “David” Sarpas and Samuel Paul Bain started Santa Ana-based U.S. Homeowners Relief in late 2008 during the collapse of the housing industry that tipped the nation into a recession.

The company promised distressed homeowners relief on mortgage payments in exchange for advance fees ranging from $1,450 and $4,200, prosecutors said. The two falsely promised they had a 97% success rate lowering mortgage payments for clients, prosecutors said.

About 1,600 homeowners lost about $3.5 million in the scheme, prosecutors said. Many of the victims lost their homes.

Sarpas and Bain also co-owned Greenleaf Modify, Waypoint Law Group and American Lending Review.

Sarpas, 37, of Irvine, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney. Sarpas was convicted in a trial of 10 counts of conspiracy and mail fraud in April 2019.

Bain, 40, of Tustin, was sentenced to five years in prison, but has already served that amount of time behind bars, said his attorney, Kate Corrigan. Bain pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiracy and mail fraud.

Bain “has changed his life quite a bit and Judge Carney recognized the changes,” Corrigan said.

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