It's Pot Day and Hitler's Birthday but definitely not Mother's Day, especially not for moms Sushama Devi Lohia, 74, of Newport Beach and 67-year-old Aida Agusti Castro of Cardiff. Lohia was sentenced today to eight years in prison for conspiring with her two daughters and a son-in-law to commit more than $16 million in real estate fraud against friends and family. Castro faces up to 25 years in the joint after she and her Orange County attorney son were separately convicted today of an $8 million mortgage scam that targeted Spanish speakers.
Lohia is a licensed real estate agent who worked out of offices owned by his daughters and son-in-law. Supriti Soni, 51, of Corona del Mar, owned and operated Vason Development in Santa Ana, which processed home loan applications. Sunti and Dinesh Valjeebhai Shah of Newport Beach owned New Age Realty, First Property Escrow, City First Realty, and Associates Investments Group, which were operated out the same Newport Avenue address in Tustin.
Between June 2006 and October 2009, the family is accused of obtaining more than 15 fraudulent loans on real estate properties in Orange County through the use of "straw buyers"--people who knowingly and willingly allowed their credit to be used for the purchase of a property they never intended to control.
The four are said to have fabricated loan applications to reflect significantly higher incomes for the straw buyers, supplying altered bank statements to reflect the higher incomes, falsifying employer information on loan documents, and forging the names and signatures of straw buyers on various deeds and loan documents, according to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
The family allegedly used the personal and credit information of the straw buyers to complete the fraudulent documents used in obtaining loans, which were all approved by Washington Mutual Bank.
The OCDA pins the total take at more than $16 million in fraud. Between July 2008 and May 2009, Lohia and the Shahs are also accused of filing false and forged documents with the Orange County Clerk-Recorder's Office to falsely show property transfers.
An investigation was launched after the OCDA received a complaint from a realtor.
Lohia accepted a court offer in December, pleading guilty to 12 felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, 27 felony counts of forgery, 12 felony count of grand theft, eight felony counts of failure to file, four felony counts of identity theft, four felony counts of recording false and forged instrument, two felony counts of under-reporting income and sentencing enhancement allegations for loss over $100,000, property damage over $3.2 million, and aggravated white collar crime over $500,000.
The failure to file and under-reporting counts stem from something else that was discovered during the investigation: Between 2005 and 2008, Lohia under-reported her income for two years and failed to file taxes for two years.
Her daughter Sonti is charged with nine felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, 17 felony counts of forgery, one felony count of identity theft, 12 felony counts of grand theft, with sentencing enhancement allegations for loss over $100,000, property damage over $3.2 million, and aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, and a 2003 prison prior for perjury.
Suniti Shah, 50, and her husband Dinesh Shah, 62, are both charged with five felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, 13 felony counts of forgery, four felony counts of identity theft, four felony counts of recording false and forged instrument, five felony counts of grand theft, and sentencing enhancement allegations for loss over $100,000, property damage over $1.3 million, and aggravated white collar crime over $500,000.
Trial for the trio is scheduled to begin July 25 in Santa Ana.
A jury today convicted Castro and her son Stephen Kenneth Chrysler, 46, and the judge ordered them to remain in federal custody through their July 30 sentencing. Castro, a state-licensed real estate agent, worked at SKC Real Estate, a Carlsbad company owned by her son.
The mother and son were also part of a loose network of 19 agents and loan brokers who committed $55 million in frauds in the Bay Area and Southern California and were arrested or indicted in 2010, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office.
Castro and Chrysler enlisted clients through advertisements in Spanish-language publications. They then inflated the clients' incomes on applications to secure $8 million in loans to buy 16 properties in Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Lakeside and Menifee over 25 months from 2005 to 2007. None of the 30 applicants were really qualified to buy the homes, and many were forced out by foreclosure when the scam began unraveling.
Faking businesses, bank balances, management companies, tenants and rental histories on mortgage documents allowed the pair to get false loans approved--and net themselves a hefty $350,000 in fees.
Among those the mother and son used for a business recommendation letter was a psychic at Mystical Dragon in Carlsbad. The fraudsters obviously could not see into the future that the psychic would wind up testifying for the prosecution.
Castro and Chrysler may have also been unable to predict that they so far would be the only scammers from the statewide network to go to trial--and get convicted.
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Their sentences will be based on the losses suffered by their victims, some of whom were lied to or not allowed to see translations of the documents they signed, according to the U.S. Attorney. The maximum they could get is 20 years in prison and fines for each of five counts of fraud.Many of the borrowers in the case received notices of default and eventually faced foreclosure.