Robert Ramus was in a downtown San Diego courtroom Friday facing nine felony charges, including grand theft of personal property, false impersonation, robbery and accessing a computer to commit a fraud. He also faces one misdeamor charge of petty theft.
All of the charges are in connection with a rental scam the 10News I-Team has been tracking for two months.
Ramus, 68, was working with 30-year-old Anthony Zoccolillo, who the I-Team caught up with earlier this summer.
Zoccolillo ran away from I-Team cameras after being confronted about a scam he and Ramus were accused of running on unsuspecting renters.
Zoccolillo, Ramus and others pretended to rent out vacant homes that were actually for sale.
The group used untraceable cell phones and ran rental ads on Craigslist, asking potential renters to pay first and last month's rent, plus a security deposit, in cash or money order.
The group had collected rent for three San Diego locations, including a house in Pacific Beach, another home in La Jolla and one in Crown Point. San Diego Deputy District Attorney Jim Waters said Ramus and Zoccollilo took over $9,400.00 from victims.
According to court records, Ramus and Zoccolillo had access to the Multiple Listings Service, a database for real estate agents giving information on homes including the code to open lock boxes. The group used that information to get into homes, according to records.
The I-Team worked with private investigator Kevin LaChappelle to check out the alleged scam.
LaChappelle pretended to be a potential renter. He told Zoccolillo he would leave $1,000 in an envelope at a vacant home in Pacific Beach.
The envelope was actually empty, but that did not stop the group from trying to collect the payment.
When confronted by the I-Team at the house, Zoccolillo ran.
Prosecutor Waters, who handles real estate fraud cases for the District Attorneys economic crimes division, said there is evidence the group might have been ready to take their scam to another city.
"The people come to town and work very quickly, for 4 or 5 days. Law enforcement catches up to them, and fortunately through the work of Channel 10 and law enforcement, we were able to catch them rather quickly," said Waters.
Ramus pleaded not guilty to the charges and is due back in court Oct. 17.
Zoccolillo is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 9.
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