Prosecutors in San Bernardino say two men preyed on struggling homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure. Some homeowners say they lost thousands of dollars in an effort to keep their homes.
The alleged ringleader of the scheme worked at Fidelity Group Realty in Fontana.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office says Stephen Easterly would approach people who were facing foreclosure and would get into their good graces by granting them incredible favors: paying off their property taxes, paying off car loans. The D.A. says this was all done fraudulently, and once the man had gained their trust, that's when the real fraud began.
"It was a good guy, he went to church, reputable, sang in the choir, and was like, 'I can help you,' so I said 'Help us.' Didn't turn out that way," said alleged fraud victim Johnny Johnson.
Like so many people right now, Johnson is close to losing his home. He says when Easterly came forward to offer assistance, he was all ears.
"He thought he had some ideas on how to save a home, and he had saved several homes for some people over in Riverside County, and wanted to know if we were interested in meeting with him, so we said, Sure, let's see about saving our home," said Johnson.
According to Johnson, Easterly's theory was that unless the mortgage company could actually present the physical loan note, he didn't have to pay, and he didn't have to leave his home.
"What he said was what we'll do is we'll put the mortgage company on notice, we'll send them these affidavits, it'll be up to them to prove your loan, your mortgage, basically to see if there were any fraudulent activities that went on with my particular loan," said Johnson.
But the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office says Easterly was actually the one guilty of fraudulent activity.
Investigators say that along with his accomplice, Emanuel Percival, not only would they charge unsuspecting victims thousands of dollars for their time, but the two would then tell those people that his plan had worked. Easterly would falsify deeds, prepare lower mortgage payments, and then collect all that money for themselves.
"They think that they've paid off their original loan, they think they have a new loan that's for a lesser amount, and reality is that they may have two new loans at this point in time, and when the dust settles, the original loan holder, the bank, is going to foreclose on their property, and as a result these people are obviously left bewildered as to what's going on," said Lance Cantos, San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.
Easterly and Percival were arrested Friday. Easterly was held on $1 million bail and Percival was held on $500,000 bail.
The district attorney believes there may be more suspects and more victims out there.
If you have information about the case, contact the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office at (909) 891-3519.