Two Southern California women and one man were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for their alleged roles in a $12 million foreclosure scam in which homeowners who were in default on their mortgages were promised refinancing, but ended up having their homes sold to others after the equity had been skimmed.
The superseding indictment returned late Wednesday alleges a scheme orchestrated by Martha Rodriguez and Edward Seung Ok, who operated real estate and escrow agencies in Downey and Seal Beach, Calif.
Rodriguez, 35, of Downey, and Ok, a 40-year-old Torrance resident, were arrested last November when the grand jury issued its first indictment.
Thursday’s indictment adds three defendants, as well as additional fraud counts and new identity theft charges. The new defendants are Cynthia Valenzuela, 23, of Downey, who is Martha Rodriguez’s cousin; Vladimir Stefanovic, 35, of Lancaster, who is Martha Rodriguez’s boyfriend; and Maria G. Juarez, 36, of Reseda.
The indictment outlines a foreclosure scheme that targeted commercial lenders and homeowners in such areas as Artesia, Lakewood, Gardena, Wilmington, Carson, West Covina, La Puente, El Monte, Westminster, Downey, Van Nuys and San Bernardino. The scheme victimized more than 100 homeowners and allegedly caused losses of at least $12 million.
By combing databases that list pending foreclosure sales, the defendants located homeowners whose loans were in default, according to allegations. The victim homeowners were told that they could stop the foreclosure of their homes with short-term loans and by refinancing the mortgage with a co-signer who had good credit. However, instead of obtaining refinancing, the defendants allegedly submitted loan applications in the names of “straw buyers” who were purportedly buying the property.
In some cases, the straw buyers were paid for the use of their personal information; in other cases, the defendants used personal information of people without their knowledge, according to allegations. The loan applications containing false information for the straw buyers caused a series of lenders to fund mortgages. Loan proceeds were used to pay off the loan in default, and the defendants allegedly skimmed off the remaining proceeds.
Homeowner victims lost title to their homes and lenders suffered losses when the straw buyers failed to make loan payments and the second loan went into default, according to the indictment.
Rodriguez has been held without bond since her arrest last year. Ok is free on a $1 million bond.
Valenzuela, Stefanovic and Juarez agreed to self-surrender Thursday at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The indictment alleges 19 counts of mail fraud, each of which carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in federal prison, and seven counts of aggravated identity theft, each of which carries a mandated penalty of two years in prison. Only Rodriguez and Valenzuela are charged in all of the counts.
Rodriguez allegedly ran the foreclosure scam while awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to defrauding the Department of Housing and Urban Development in another loan fraud scheme. If the jury determines that she committed the foreclosure fraud offenses while free on bond, she could receive another 10 years in prison.
The FBI investigated the case.