Two women arrested for foreclosure scam

March 26, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The owner and an employee of Community Home Saver Program in Livermore were arrested today in connection with a real estate foreclosure rescue scam, which victimized home owners in danger of losing their homes, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

A 36-count complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that company owner Sonia Alburez, 37, and employee Verena Silva, 42, preyed on the owners of at least 14 different properties in the county.

Alburez, who's being held at the Santa Rita Jail in lieu of $344,000 bail, and Silva, who's being held in lieu of $189,000 bail, are expected to be arraigned on Friday.

If they're convicted, they could be sentenced to at least several years in state prison, fined thousands of dollars for each offense and be ordered to pay restitution to victims.

Law enforcement officials said they believe the complaint represents only a tiny portion of the scams perpetrated by the Community Home Saver Program and stressed that their investigation is ongoing.

Deputy District Attorney David Lim said that due to the slumping housing market, "The climate is ripe for this type of scam" because many homeowners are in "stressful and desperate situations."

He described the alleged crimes as "a new type of scam."

Prosecutors say that in the scam allegedly perpetrated by the two women, homeowners who faced foreclosure would be solicited by direct mailings from Community Home Saver Program, who would retrieve their names from public records in the Alameda County Recorder's Office.

The complaint says Alburez and Silva would then have property owners transfer a fractional interest, usually 10 to 15 percent, of their property to fictitious company names via a grant deed. The fictitious companies had no real assets and did no legitimate work, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say the grant deeds bearing the false company names were then recorded with the Recorder's office and the two women would file a bankruptcy petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court under the fictitious company names. The bankruptcy petitions would act to automatically stay the foreclosure proceedings.

According to the complaint, Alburez and Silva charged a monthly fee between $1,500 and $2,500 on the promise of keeping the foreclosure forestalled.

However, unbeknownst to the homeowners, the banks who held the legitimate liens on the properties would go to the bankruptcy courts, get the grant deeds with the fictitious company names overturned, and then foreclose on the properties, prosecutors say.

The homeowners would then lose whatever money they paid the two women and would still end up losing their homes.

Alburez and Silva are charged with filing false grant deeds, receiving money as a foreclosure consultant before fully performing all services and grand theft by false pretenses, all of which are felonies.

They also are charged with conveyance of land with intent to delay creditors, which is a misdemeanor.

In addition, Silva is charged with felony first-degree residential burglary for allegedly going into the home of a victim to solicit the real estate fraud scheme.

Lim said, "Today's charges were filed in order to stop the illegal action by the defendants and to put the public on notice that this type of 'foreclosure rescue' is illegal and nothing more than a scam against home owners."

"We believe the victims identified in our initial complaint may only be the tip of the iceberg and that there may be additional victims both in Alameda County and statewide," he said.

Law enforcement officials said anybody who feels they may have been victimized by this scam or a similar scam should report it immediately.

Anyone who has information about the Alameda County case should call the District Attorney's real estate fraud division at (877) 288-2882.