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Los Angeles: On October 17, 2012, around 6 a.m., Detectives from the LAPD, Commercial Crimes Division, Fraud Section, Fugitive Warrant Section and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office arrested nine suspects who stole more than $1 million from 65 victims in a fraudulent loan modification scam.
Suspects: Nino Vera, Tony Haschke, Franklin Marquez, Eduardo Teran, Corina Castillo, Daniel Argueta, Susana Vasquez, Jimmy Alvarez, Gustavo Vargas, Octavio Ponce and Juan Diego Perez were arrested for Conspiracy to Commit a Crime.
Felony complaints were also filed against four suspects currently in custody in Ventura and San Diego Counties: David Zepeda, John Zepeda, Rene Solis and Hector Menendez. Detectives are in the process of locating and arresting several outstanding suspects.
The scheme involved the targeting of primarily Spanish speaking homeowners who were having financial difficulties during the downturn of the housing market. When victims are close to losing their homes, they often place trust in people who sell them hope, but ultimately those same people scam them out of their money. The suspects did virtually no work to help the victims out of their desperate situations, but rather placed them further at risk of losing their homes in a foreclosure. The majority of the victims had already received Notices of Default or had already lost their home via foreclosure.
The suspects ran an operation which at one point consisted of about 10-12 separate offices in the Los Angeles County Area. The names of the businesses were: SB Management, Financial Wellness for Homeowners of Los Angeles County Corporation (FWHLA), California Sky Premier, Zap Group Legal, Majestic Group, El Camino Marketing and J & E Services. The suspects reached out to the victims by the use of referrals, internet searches of foreclosure notices and radio advertising.
During the investigation it was determined there were numerous additional victims spread out over several counties and the total monetary losses were in the millions. Many of the victims only spoke Spanish and were instructed to sign contracts/paperwork in English.
The fraud scheme initially was started by David Zepeda with the assistance of his brother, John Zepeda in San Bernardino and San Diego counties sometime in 2008 or 2009.
The victims would pay large upfront fees to join the program and then would pay monthly payments to SB Management to stay in their homes as caretakers.
The victims were told by the suspects that SB Management would stop the foreclosure, they would negotiate with the banks/lenders and the victims would have their loan principal balance and monthly payments reduced by approximately 50%. The same program (sales pitch) continued when Rene Solis took over the operation after the Zepeda brothers were arrested in September 2010.
No services were rendered by the suspects, resulting in victims being evicted from their homes, despite paying thousands of dollars in ongoing fees. The victims’ money was deposited into multiple bank accounts and the suspects were paid large commissions. The investigation found evidence that the suspects did not make any payments towards the victims’ loans and did very little or no communication, correspondence or negotiation on behalf of the victims. Most of the money provided by the victims were paid to sales agents in commissions, salaries of the employees, business expenses or kept as income for personal use by the leaders of the fraudulent business operation, specifically, David Zepeda, John Zepeda, Rene Solis, Sally Samaris and Franklin Marquez.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call Commercial Crimes Division, Detective Ernest Munoz at 213-486-8714. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (1-877-527-3247). Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477). Tipsters may also contact Crime Stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.” Tipsters may also go to www.lapdonline.org, and click on "Anonymous Web Tips.”