Men accused of stealing multi-million dollar condos

April 19, 2012 9:09:57 PM PDT
San Francisco prosecutors are laying out their case against three men accused of stealing multi-million dollar condos from a San Francisco real estate executive. The complex web of deception allegedly goes from San Francisco to Switzerland.

One defense attorney compared the case to a movie with many twists and turns and a man dubbed the "dark prince."

In all, the three men face a combined total of 48 felony counts, ranging from grand theft, money laundering and filing false documents.

It's one of San Francisco's prime pieces of real estate -- One Rincon Annex and its gorgeous views Of San Francisco Bay. Real estate executive Shirley Hwang liked it so much she bought three condos there for $3.75 million.

Three men also saw opportunity in the property. Prosecutors say real estate broker and attorney Melvin Emerich, telecommunications executive Jay Shah and tennis instructor Winston Lum conspired to steal Hwang's property right from under her.

"The complexity in which the defendants went about defrauding this person by, you know, by recording titles to property that were owned by someone else and then going out and getting loans on this particular piece of real estate is very disturbing," District Attorney George Gascon said.

Prosecutor Sandip Patel kicked off opening arguments this week by saying he'll prove the men identified Hwang's property, took it and then tried to hide what they took. Patel says the men chose Hwang's property because she had no outstanding loans on them.

They're accused of forging her deeds, illegally transferring properties to Lum and eventually taking $2.2 million in loans on those properties

Prosecutors believe the money was funneled into Lum International and other shell companies and then into Swiss bank accounts before being split among the three men.

David Harrison is the attorney for Lum. Harrison points the finger at Kaushal Niroula, who is facing 19 counts in the case. The man, known as the "dark prince," isn't being tried in this case because he's in Palm Springs on trial for the murder of Clifford Lambert and for plotting to steal Lambert's home.

Gascon says he wants to keep the focus on the other three.

"Right now we're dealing with the three defendants and I really want to keep it at this right now," he said.

But Lum's attorney says Niroula duped his client into thinking victim Hwang was Niroula's girlfriend and that he was only trying to help Niroula.

In opening arguments, attorney Richard Salkman described Jay Shah as a man of character who has overcome his disability. He too said Niroula conned his client into helping with the plot.

The attorney for Melvin Emerich did not give an opening statement.

All three defense attorneys declined to speak to us.

This trial is expected to last six months and contains thousands of pieces of evidence

If you are a victim of mortgage fraud, you are urged to call the San Francisco district attorney's fraud hotline at 415-553-9535.


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