LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- A Southern California brother-and-sister team were arrested Tuesday on federal charges alleging they orchestrated a $6 million real estate fraud scam in which they listed homes without the owners' consent and collected money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.
Adolfo Schoneke, 43, of Torrance, and his sister, Bianca Gonzalez, a.k.a. Blanca Schoneke, 38, of Walnut, each pleaded not guilty to nine charges contained in an indictment unsealed after their arrests. The indictment charges Schoneke and Gonzalez with one count of conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, Schoneke and Gonzalez, with the help of co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast.
The indictment alleges Schoneke and Gonzalez found properties that they would list for sale - even though many, in fact, were not for sale, and they did not have authority to list them for sale - and they then marketed the properties as short sales providing opportunities for purchases at below-market prices.
Using other people's broker's licenses, Schoneke and Gonzalez allegedly listed the properties on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In some cases, the indictment alleges, the homes were marketed through open houses that co-conspirators were able to host after tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.
As part of the alleged scheme, the co-conspirators accepted multiple offers for each of the not-for-sale properties, hiding this fact from the victims and instead leading each of the victims to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted. The co-conspirators allegedly were able to string along the victims - sometimes for years - by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.
The indictment also alleges that Schoneke and Gonzalez directed office workers to open bank accounts in the office workers' names. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full "purchase price" to these bank accounts after receiving forged short sale approval letters.
Schoneke and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts and give it to them - a procedure that allowed Schoneke and Gonzalez to take possession of the fraud proceeds while hiding their involvement in the scheme.
Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million during the scheme.
During the arraignments, a trial was scheduled for June 1. Both defendants will remain in custody at least until detention hearings scheduled for Friday for Schoneke and April 13 for Gonzalez.
If convicted of all charges, Schoneke and Gonzalez each would face a statutory maximum sentence of 162 years in federal prison.
This matter was investigated by the FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General. The investigation was initiated by numerous complaints to the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, both of which provided substantial assistance during the federal investigation.