Three Orange County family members and two of their business associates operated a loan modification scam that stung Latino customers throughout Southern California for nearly $400,000, prosecutors alleged Thursday.
Four of the five have been taken into custody and the fifth remains a fugitive, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), which identifies the defendants as:
* Carlos Jose Centeno, 37, of Yorba Linda, who is charged with 121 felony counts of grand theft, one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime, and five felony counts of unlawful advance fee by a foreclosure consultant. He faces up to 77 years in prison, is being held on $300,000 bail and has a pre-trial scheduled Monday morning in Santa Ana.
* Ricardo Torres Centeno, 31, the Anaheim brother to Carlos Centeno, who is the fugitive charged with eight felony counts of grand theft, one felony count each of acts constituting forgery and conspiracy to commit a crime. He faces up to 15 years in prison if he is captured and convicted.
* Lizeth Garcia Arzate, 32, the wife of Ricardo Centeno, who faces 12 felony counts of grand theft and one felony count each of conspiracy to commit a crime and unlawful advance fee by a foreclosure consultant. She could get up to 15 years, has been released on $300,000 bail and is due in court on Feb. 20.
* Hector Alfredo Valdivia, 50, of Lake Elsinore, is charged with three felony counts of grand theft, one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime and faces eight years and four months if convicted. Released on $10,000 bail, he's also due in court on Feb. 20.
* Susie Rabadan, 31, of Anaheim, faces 13 felony counts of grand theft and one felony count each of conspiracy to commit a crime, and unlawful advance fee by a foreclosure consultant. Released on $10,000 bail with a Feb. 20 court date pending, Rabadan could get 15 years if convicted.
Additionally, each defendant faces sentencing enhancements for aggravated white collar crime over $100,000 under $500,000, taking funds exceeding $50,000 and theft exceeding $150,000. No one could be released on bond unless they proved the money came from legal and legitimate sources, according to the OCDA.
Carlos Centeno owned and operated the Foreclosure Prevention Department in Irvine, while Ricardo Centeno and Lizeth Arzate owned and operated Debt Settlers of America (DSA) in Orange, where Hector Valdivia and Susie Rabadan were office managers and consultants. On Hispanic radio stations heard throughout the state, DSA advertised it could assist with the renegotiation of home loans.
The OCDA accuses the five or working together to charge and accept illegal upfront fees from victims for services that they did not provide by collecting and processing loan modification applications. Specifically, between December 2009 and December 2012, the quintet contacted 23 people who were promised assistance with negotiating their home loans after paying upfront fees, prosecutors allege.
They are accused of collecting illegal upfront fees, some of which were covered by taking customers' monthly mortgage payments directly and having them deposited into personal bank accounts, according to the OCDA, which says the scam netted nearly $400,000 that was spent on the defendants' own bills and expenses.
Some who never received modifications on their home loans and, in some cases, lost their homes to foreclosure, contacted the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, which launched an investigation. Other victims may be out there, according to prosecutors, who ask that anyone who believes they were stung to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Andy Terhorst of the Major Fraud Unit at 714.347.8691.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.