By Aaron Blevins, 10/25/2012
More than a dozen members of a widespread loan scheme that bilked thousands of mostly Spanish-speaking homeowners throughout California out of their homes appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Oct. 19 after their arrests earlier last week.
Four others charged in the case are in custody in other areas of California. Four other defendants are at large.
Ten of the defendants were arrested by Los Angeles Police Department Commercial Crimes Division detectives, who investigated the case. Arraignment was put over until Oct. 29, and the defendants are being held on bail ranging from $4.5 million for one to $3.5 million each for the rest. The defendants — 22 in all — are accused of one count each of conspiracy to commit grand theft and conspiracy to commit rent skimming.
It was alleged in the complaint that the defendants took in millions of dollars from victims, who sometimes literally were put out on the street when they lost their homes. The crimes allegedly occurred between Jan 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2012. According to the complaint, the defendants “entered into a criminal enterprise to defraud over 100 victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by creating a fraudulent load modification and fraudulent class action lawsuit scheme.”
Instead of saving the homeowners’ homes, the defendants eventually seized them. In some cases, the defendants moved in themselves. The scheme primarily involved Spanish-speaking homeowners who were having financial difficulties during the housing market downturn. Many of the victims were unable to obtain legitimate government assistance and turned to the defendants, who advertised heavily in the Latino community.
The victims, according to the complaint, paid large upfront fees to join the program and stay in their homes. They allegedly were told that the defendants would stop the foreclosure and would negotiate a reduced payment. It was called the “caretaker plan” and supposedly was designed to allow the victims to save and live in their homes.
The scheme was formed, according to authorities by David Zepeda, 59, and his brother, John, 61. The brothers were charged in San Diego County with multiple counts of conspiracy, identity theft, forgery, grand theft and other crimes. John Zepeda was convicted and is in state prison. David Zepeda awaits trial in San Diego County. Both are charged in the Los Angeles case.
The Zepedas operated Sunset Beach Management, which administered the scheme. The scheme also included “law” groups — that had no lawyers — which were created to recover foreclosed property.