A home in California under foreclosure. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Authorities indicted nine people this week allegedly involved in a $6 million scheme that preyed on Southern California victims facing foreclosure.

The indictment, announced by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, outlines crimes that occurred in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties from 2011 to 2018.

The 136-count indictment charges Eduardo Toro and Filiverto Gomez, both 38, Ana Cecilia Toro, 36, Veronica Romero, 35, Veronica Toro, 46, Leticia Mora, 54, Maria Gil, 47, Emmanuel Lopez, 42, and Gladys Velasquez, 41.

Their alleged crimes include grand theft, identity theft, filing of false or forged documents and conspiracy to commit grand theft.

The defendants pleaded not guilty, to the counts in the indictment, handed down Oct. 30

Prosecutors accuse them of targeting distressed homeowners by claiming they could stop the foreclosure of homes if the victims made monthly payments.

They then delayed foreclosures and eviction actions by allegedly filing fraudulent bankruptcy documents, court documents and fractional interest grant deeds, according to the state.

The documents were then sent to the servicers of mortgage loans. That stopped foreclosures by invoking the bankruptcy “automatic stay,” the Attorney General’s Office said.

Many homeowners wound up losing their homes to foreclosure, despite paying the defendants hundreds of dollars a month over the course of many years.

The alleged scheme impacted multiple victims, resulted in a loss of about $6 million and affected more than 200 properties.

The list includes properties with loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and loan servicers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, officials said.

“Our objective is to ensure that the public is not taken advantage of when they have fallen on hard financial times,” said Michael Gibson, the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG).

“Distressed homeowners are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud. An important message has been sent today to those who prey upon homeowners who are seeking financial assistance with their mortgage and we will remain vigilant to hold them accountable. This type of fraud not only affects individual families, it also affects the housing market.”

The case stemmed from a joint state and federal investigation that included the California Department of Justice and HUD.

“Individuals who choose to prey on vulnerable Californians at risk of losing their homes will be held accountable,” the attorney general said. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and prosecute those who disregard the law in order to make a profit.”

– City News Service