A Santa Maria woman will spend two years in jail after pleading no contest to 15 felony charges related to real-estate fraud, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Jessica Lynn Orca entered the pleas Thursday in Superior Court, said Deputy District Attorney Manuel Almada.
Investigators with the district attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit alleged that Orca offered to perform loan-modification services for clients, and collected fees in advance in violation of state law, Almada said.
She also required clients to provide her with money orders and cashier’s checks that she told the victims would go directly toward house payments and foreclosure services, Almada said, but instead embezzled the funds for her personal use.
Orca pleaded no contest to 12 felony counts of grand theft, three felony counts of engaging in prohibited practices of a foreclosure, and two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully collecting advanced fees, Almada said.
A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but is treated like a guilty plea for purposes of punishment.
Superior Court Judge Edward H. Bullard indicated he would sentence Orca to seven years in state prison.
However, because of the state’s new public-safety realignment law, Orca likely will serve two years in Santa Barbara County Jail and five years under supervised release, Almada said.
In an unrelated case, two people pleaded no contest Friday to charges related to loan modification/foreclosure assistance fraud.
Franklin David Marquez pleaded to one felony count of loan-modification fraud, while Siszy Aragon pleaded to a misdemeanor count of being an accessory after the fact, said Deputy District Attorney Gary Gemberling.
The pair were accused in a scheme that involved contacting homeowners in distress and offering to save their homes from foreclosure for a substantial fee, Gemberling said.
The scam involved setting up phony trust funds, which the victims are told to make their mortgage payments into while attorneys supposedly are working to prevent the foreclosures.
Eventually the lenders do foreclosure on the homes, after the victims have paid thousands of dollars to the fraudulent companies, Gemberling said.
“Unfortunately, many of the victims of these scams do not know that crimes have been committed against them,” said District Attorney Joyce Dudley. “Additionally, people who are in financial trouble and are in the process of losing their homes may not be able or willing to come forward and report these activities.
“This is the ‘perfect storm’ that makes it easier for scammers to take advantage of them.”
Dudley said that anyone who has paid an upfront fee for foreclosure assistance or loan modification should contact law enforcement or file a claim on the district attorney’s website.