Like all reputable real estate and escrow agents in the red-hot Southern California housing market, Adolfo Schoneke and his sister Bianca Gonzalez held open houses and accepted bids on several houses.
The siblings and others ran real estate businesses in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach.
But there was a problem: the houses they showed weren’t for sale.
In reality, the homes were a facade for a program that resulted in more than $6 million in losses for hundreds of victims, federal prosecutors said this week.
Now Schoneke, Gonzalez and co-conspirators face federal prison time over the plot.
Schoneke, 45, from Torrance, was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in May, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Gonzalez, 39, pleaded guilty to her role in wire fraud in April and is due to be sentenced in May.
“Playing with the dream of owning your own home and seemingly unattainable real estate prices, [Schoneke] found a way to ‘sell’ houses he didn’t own and had nothing to do with putting them up for sale,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing note.
According to prosecutors, Schoneke and others found properties for sale — regardless of whether the owners intended to sell them or not — and listed them on real estate websites to market them as short sale opportunities.
“In some cases, the homes were marketed through open houses, where homeowners or residents were persuaded to allow their homes to be used,” prosecutors said.
Several bids were accepted for the properties, but each potential buyer was told that only their bid was accepted.
Each “purchase” was delayed, sometimes by years, as buyers were told the sale had to be approved.
“Clerks opened bank accounts to disguise the co-conspirators’ involvement in the fraud,” prosecutors said.
Buyers would transfer payments to the accounts, in some cases for the full purported purchase price.
“The co-conspirators directed clerks to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts, which made tracing the proceeds difficult,” prosecutors said.
Mario Gonzalez, 51 – no relation to Bianca Gonzalez – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to wire fraud in a similar case in 2019 and is due to be sentenced in April.
In all, Schoneke and the others raised nearly $12 million from approximately 750 victims.
Some of the sacrifices were repaid, but nearly 400 people ultimately lost more than $6 million on the program. A redress hearing for Schoneke is scheduled for December.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-26/prison-sentence-multimillion-dollar-scam-fake-open-houses Man gets prison in multimillion-dollar fake open-house scam