LAWFUEL – US ATTORNEY – A Downey resident pleaded guilty today to federal fraud and money laundering charges, admitting her role in a $12 million real estate fraud scheme that targeted homeowners in default on their mortgages and falsely promised them help.
Martha Rodriguez, 35, pleaded guilty this morning in United States District Court in Los Angeles to one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering in relation to the scheme that ran from May 2003 until November 2005.
By pleading guilty, Rodriguez admitted that she and several co-schemers located victim homeowners through computerized databases that list homes going into foreclosure. Rodriguez promised victim homeowners that their homes would get refinanced. However, instead of obtaining refinancing, Rodriguez and the other defendants charged in this case 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. The loan applications for the straw buyers – which always contained false information – caused a series of lenders to fund mortgages. The loan proceeds were used to pay off the loan in default, and the remaining proceeds were skimmed off by Rodriguez and her co-schemers.
Even though they were promised that they would keep their homes, the victim homeowners lost title to their homes. The lenders suffered losses when the straw buyers failed to make loan payments and the second loans went into default. The scheme targeted commercial lenders and more than 100 homeowners across the Southland.
The scheme was operated through Rodriguez’s real estate and escrow agencies, Silvernet Properties in Downey and Bellasi Escrow in Seal Beach. As a result of her guilty pleas, Rodriguez faces a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in federal prison. Rodriguez has agreed to forfeit to the government her interest in five homes, a truck and approximately $900,000 in cash that was seized by the government around the time of her arrest.
Rodriguez was indicted with four co-defendants. One of them – Cynthia Valenzuela, a 24-year-old Downey resident – pleaded guilty last Friday to mail fraud charges. Rodriguez and Valenzuela are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge George H. King on August 20.
The three remaining defendants are scheduled to go to trial on July 10 before Judge King. The remaining defendants are Martha Rodriguez’s common-law husband, Vladimir Stefanovic, 35, of Lancaster; Edward Seung Ok, 40, of Huntington Beach; and Maria G. Juarez, 36, of Diamond Bar.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Rebecca S. Lonergan
Release No. 07-030