Questioning who was victimized, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge reduced real estate fraud charges against two Santa Maria Valley men and urged attorneys on both sides to work out a settlement.

Judge Timothy Staffel made his comments at the end of the Thursday’s preliminary hearing for Angelo Naemi and Steve Gonzales.

“I’m looking for a victim. I’m looking for an amount … and I’m not seeing that,” Staffel said.

Naemi, 36, was arrested for suspicion of five counts of grand theft by false pretenses, and one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft. 

Gonzales, 61, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft.

The complaint also includes special allegations for aggravated white collar crime and excessive losses.

However, after the preliminary hearing, Staffel dropped one charge against Naemi and reduced others from felonies to misdemeanors.

Charges against the men were filed in December.

“The complaint alleges that Naemi, a real estate salesperson, and Gonzales, a real estate broker, conspired to falsify documents in association with numerous short sale transactions,” the District Attorney’s Office said in announcing the charges. “Their actions allegedly resulted in a loss to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of over $500,000.”

The original allegations stem from deals spanning between 2012 and 2015 involving properties on the 1200 block of East Fesler Street and 1600 block of Chadwell Drive in Santa Maria, 800 block of West Fir Avenue in Lompoc, 300 block of Price Ranch Road in Los Alamos and the 500 block of Dawn Drive in Buellton. 

While the acts may have violated regulations, Staffel questioned whether they were criminal acts.. 

“Are the homeowners unhappy?” Staffed asked. 

“The homeowners are not complaining to the best of my knowledge,” Deputy District Attorney Casey Nelson said. 

Staffel told the attorneys to seriously negotiate the case to reach a settlement before the case heads to trial. The compromise could include refunding commissions made on the deals and an agreement not to do questionable transactions. 

Outside the courtroom defense attorney Michael Scott, who represents Naemi, said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac signed off on the transactions and did their own appraisals. 

Scott welcomed the ruling.

“I think it was a good result. It was a triple rather than a home run but it was a good result,” Scott said. “I think the judge did the right thing to reduce it to a misdemeanor and ultimately nothing was lost.”

Defense attorney Stephen Anderson noted his client is a well-respected real estate broker.

“The testimony here was never a seller, nobody was defrauded. Not a dollar,” Anderson added. 

Insurance covered any potential losses from the short-sale transactions, Anderson said.

Gonzales became sole owner of CornerStone Real Estate in Santa Maria in 2012 while Naemi was listed as a sales associate with the firm. 

CornerStone is now known as Champion Real Estate and has moved to Orcutt, with Gonzales listed on its website as the owner/broker.

The case is scheduled to return to court May 2.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.