Thirteen people were ordered jailed Friday while awaiting arraignment on conspiracy charges stemming from an alleged loan modification scam that bilked dozens of mostly Spanish-speaking Southland property owners out of more than $1 million.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba ordered the 13 to remain jailed on amounts ranging from $3.5 million to $4.5 million bail while they await arraignment Oct. 29, saying that she found the case "extremely egregious."
Deputy District Attorney Walter Mueller told the judge that the alleged scam targeted "people who lost their homes," noting that men, women and children were "thrown on to the streets" when they lost their residences to foreclosure.
Jailed were: Nino Vera, 52; Eduardo Jorge Teran, Daniel Orlando Argueta, Tony Haschke and Juan Diego Perez, all 45; Franklin Marquez, 48; Sally Samaris, 66; Gustavo Vargas, 67; Octavio Ponce, 46; Susana Emily Vasquez, 44; Jimmy Alvarez, 26; Corina Ernesto Castillo, 32; and Juana Chavez Bolanos, 49.
Most were arrested early Wednesday morning, but Samaris was taken into custody after appearing in court this afternoon.
Four other defendants -- David Zepeda, 59; John Anthony Zepeda, 61; Rene Wilfredo Solis, 52; and Hector O. Menendez, 56 -- are awaiting transfer from state prison or county jails where they are being held on other cases.
Another four people are still being sought, and a fifth is believed to be in another state, according to the District Attorney's Office.
All of the defendants are charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit grand theft and conspiracy to commit rent skimming.
The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants were involved in a "criminal enterprise to defraud over 100 victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by creating a fraudulent loan modification and fraudulent class- action lawsuit scheme."
The scheme targeted primarily Spanish-speaking homeowners who were having financial difficulties during the downturn in the housing market, and involved them having to pay large fees up-front to join the program to stay in their homes as caretakers.
The property owners were told that their homes would not be foreclosed upon, and were later introduced programs that promised to recover the property after it was sold by the lender at a trustee's sale, according to prosecutors.
The scam occurred between January 2009 and this Sept. 30 and targeted victims who had property in about two dozen cities, including Los Angeles, Lomita, Carson, Lawndale, San Pedro, Long Beach, Northridge, Reseda, Sun Valley, Canoga Park, Hacienda Heights, Duarte, South Gate, Montebello and Pico Rivera, according to court papers.
Los Angeles police said there were 65 victims, and that most of them either lost their homes or received default notices.
The operation—which included about 10 to 12 offices in the Los Angeles County area—used business names that included SB Management, Financial Wellness for Homeowners of Los Angeles County Corporation, California Sky Premier, Zap Group Legal, Majestic Group, El Camino Marketing and J & E Services, police said.
The scheme operated throughout California and had moved into Nevada, according to authorities.