A Moreno Valley man was among 11 people indicted for allegedly victimizing several thousand Inland Empire residents in a loan modification scam that promised to save financially distressed homeowners from foreclosure, but instead caused many to lose their homes, it was announced today.
Michael Bruce Bates — also known as Michael Bruce Myers and Robert Allen Castro — is facing nine felony counts, including mail fraud and conspiracy, for allegedly helping perpetrate an 18-month scheme that netted $7 million in ill-gotten gains, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The 61-year-old Bates and his codefendants, all but one of whom made their initial court appearances in U.S. District Court in Riverside this afternoon, operated 21st Century Real Estate Investment Corp. in Rancho Cucamonga, prosecutors said.
Between June 2008 and December 2009, the defendants allegedly targeted property owners in default, convincing more than 4,000 of them to use 21st Century Real Estate’s services. According to the indictment, homeowners were told that the firm could negotiate loan modifications that would stave off repossession of their properties, “falsely representing that 21st Century was operating a … program sponsored by the United States government.”
Desperate homeowners were contacted through cold calls, while others responded to newspaper and web-based advertisements, prosecutors allege.
The defendants allegedly told victims to stop making mortgage payments and allow 21st Century to handle future negotiations with loan servicers. The company charged homeowners fees, which the defendants’ pocketed without resolving many of the pending foreclosures, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The alleged mastermind of the scheme was Rancho Cucamonga resident Andrea Ramirez, 44, according to the indictment.
“Ramirez and her co-conspirators are charged with fraudulently operating 21st Century to exploit the hardships of homeowners fighting to keep a roof over their head,” said Christy Romero, special inspector general for the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP.
“As alleged, these con artists swindled distressed homeowners by lying about their affiliation with federal housing programs and giving money-back guarantees that the homeowners would get a lower mortgage payment if they paid an advance fee.
“(We) are committed to shutting down schemes that prey on those who can least afford it by falsely claiming an affiliation with TARP’s housing programs.”
In addition to Bates and Ramirez, the other defendants named in the indictment are:
– Christopher Paul George, 42, of Rancho Cucamonga;
– Crystal Taiwana Buck, 37, of Long Beach;
– Michael Lewis Parker, 34, of Pomona, who remains at large;
– Catalina Deleon, 35, of Glendora;
– Hamid Reza Shalviri, 50, Montebello;
– Yadira Garcia Padilla, 35, of Rancho Cucamonga;
– Mindy Sue Holt, 53, of San Bernardino;
– Iris Melissa Pelayo, 42, of Upland; and
– Albert DiRoberto, 59, of Fullerton.
If convicted, they each face a maximum 180 years in federal prison.