Murder defendant linked to SF condo fraud

March 24, 2010 6:34:47 PM PDT
Police in San Francisco are connecting a multimillion-dollar real estate fraud to a San Francisco man on trial for murder. A formal announcement is expected by the district attorney's office Thursday.

7 On Your Side's Michael Finney first reported this case in February 2010, shortly after the arrest of a tennis instructor on 16 felony counts of forgery, grand theft and identity theft.

On Wednesday, police announced the arrests of two more people and new charges against a man already on trial for murder in Palm Springs.

Kaushal Niroula is one of five Bay Area men on trial for murder in the death of 74-year-old Cliff Lambert. The men are accused of murdering Lambert and then illegally gaining possession of his Palm Springs estate.

Now, Niroula faces charges along with three others, of stealing three multi-million dollar condos in San Francisco's One Rincon Hill that belonged to a Bay Area real estate executive. Investigators say they did that by falsifying documents and transferring the properties illegally. The men then took out loans on the property.

"There were three loans obtained successfully for a total of $2.2 million. Each loan was against one of the three properties that were fraudulently transferred," says detective Greg Ovennesian with the SFPD Economic Crimes Unit.

Police say $225,000 of that money went to Winston Lum, the tennis instructor arrested in February and accused of actually forging the signatures. $1.7 million went into escrow and police say it was then funneled through various companies connected to two other men arrested.

Jay Shah was arrested at his 61-acre ranch in San Jose Tuesday. Also arrested was Melvin Lee Emerich, a licensed real estate broker who runs a law firm out of an office in San Jose.

"I think that Kaushal Niroula and Jay Shah played significant roles, but they could not have done this alone," Ovennesian says.

Police served more than 30 search warrants in this case and collected volumes of evidence including a rifle, financial records and other property. Authorities got a break in the case when a real estate agent attempted to broker a deal to purchase one of the condos for a client.

"There were a number of red flags. One of them is that he didn't have a key to the unit. He wanted me to drive down to San Francisco and meet him at the unit with a locksmith," explained Lorie Alden of Chalk Board Realty.

Alden promptly called her attorney who then called police.

"I'm surprised that there aren't more checks and balances in the system to prevent something like this from happening," she says.

"It shows how relatively easy it can be for something like this to happen. I would suggest people do their own homework from time to time and check to make sure there's nothing unusual recorded against their property," suggests Ovanassian.

Each of the four defendants is being held on bail ranging from $7.5 million $10 million. Winston Lum's attorney had no comment and ABC7 was not able to reach the other defense attorneys.


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