Two people implicated in a real-estate-fraud scheme pleaded guilty to dozens of felony counts Monday, and could face up to 48 years in prison as a result.
Ismael Cancinos, 56, of Palmdale pleaded guilty to 34 felony charges associated with defrauding homeowners in Santa Barbara as well as other counties in California, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.
Mercedes Alvarez, 48, of Palmdale and a co-conspirator, pleaded to seven felony charges stemming from the same fraudulent activity.
Thirty-four victims came forward in the case, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Scott, who added that most of the homeowners were located in northern Santa Barbara County, but that the office found other victims located in Contra Costa, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles Counties.
Cancinos advertised very heavily on the radio in the North County, stating that he could save people's home from foreclosure through his business, American Asset Management, that he ran with Alvarez.
"Sometimes he would say, 'I'll negotiate with your bank and get a loan modification for you'," she said, and take people's money up front, which is illegal.
He would also stall the foreclosure process by stating he'd file bankruptcies for homeowners, but never did so while collecting their money.
Another scam Cancino allegedly was running was through a business called Crown Point, through which he would tell people facing the loss of their homes that his company and investors would buy their home and sell it back to them.
"There were no investors," Scott said.
Alvarez added legitimacy to the operation because she was a licensed real estate salesperson, Scott said.
In Monday's plea deal, Cancinos pled guilty to two counts of first-degree residential burglary (both constituting “strikes”), three counts of grand theft, and 29 counts of fraudulent practices of a foreclosure consultant.
Alvarez pled to seven counts of fraudulent practices of a foreclosure consultant and admitted the special allegation of committing an aggravated white collar crime.
In addition to their prison sentences, Cancinos and Alvarez will be ordered to pay full restitution to their victims, and Alvarez will be required to surrender her real estate license.
Alvarez will be sentenced on Aug. 25, and Cancinos will be sentenced on Sept. 15.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley commended her office’s Real Estate Fraud Unit for their outstanding investigative work in this case and stated, “Real estate fraud negatively impacts our community, as well as the homeowners who rely on so-called ‘professionals.’ County residents are reminded to never pay an upfront fee to an individual or business claiming to provide services that would rescue the resident from a pending foreclosure.”