Man accused of renting empty, foreclosed homes

March 1, 2012 10:16:50 PM PST
Some renters in Contra Costa County may get evicted, after police say a man used Craigslist to defraud several families. Alfonso Salazar is facing multiple counts in connection with a rental scheme that involved foreclosed or unoccupied homes.

Initially investigators had four families that had been victimized. When they searched the Salazar's home, they found more victims -- 20 so far.

Roberto Leon owns a landscaping business. In December he and his family rented a home in Brentwood.

"Next day the real estate agent comes with two cops, nearly got arrested and they said, 'You are not supposed to be here.' I said, 'Yes I do, I have a lease,'" said Leon.

That lease was made out by 62-year-old Salazar, an experienced real estate agent in Martinez.

Ken McCormick is with the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office in the Real Estate Fraud Unit. He says Salazar rented out foreclosed empty homes in Walnut Creek, Brentwood, Hercules, and Antioch.

"People would respond to the Craigslist ad for the rental and innocent people would come and rent the properties and they would part with $3,000, $4,000, up to $6,000," said McCormick.

According to the investigation, Salazar would find an empty home, and claim "adverse possession" ---something that can be done within the law. Except that in California, it requires five years of continuous use and the person taking possession must pay the local property taxes.

Walnut Creek police say Salazar changed the locks and put the homes on the rental market.

"I've heard of fraud like this before. This is the first that I'm aware of that our department has been involved in," said Walnut Creek Police Sgt. Mike McLaughlin.

Salazar took possession of the homes on behalf of a Southern California organization called the National Alliance of Homeowners for Justice. They claim to be a counseling service.

"We do not know at this stage whether or not that company in Southern California was instructing this man to do criminal activity or whether or not he was doing this on his own," said McCormick.

The organization did not return our calls.

Meanwhile, Leon remains in his Brentwood rental and refuses to move out even though the bank has given him a notice to leave the premises.

"I'm still there. My savings were there you know. The reason I moved out there was because I was giving my daughters a better school," said Leon.

In two cases the banks have allowed the tenants to stay in the home as long as they pay the rent.

Investigators say that they have also recovered some of the money and they promise to return it to the victims once the trial is over.


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