LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Southern California brother-and-sister team were arrested Tuesday on federal charges alleging they orchestrated a $6 million real estate fraud scam in which they listed homes without the owners' consent and collected money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.
Adolfo Schoneke, 43, of Torrance, and Bianca Gonzalez, also known as Blanca Schoneke, 38, of Walnut, each pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a nine-count indictment unsealed after their arrests.
If convicted of seven counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, Schoneke and Gonzalez each would face up to 162 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A June 1 trial date was set. Both defendants will remain in custody at least until detention hearings scheduled Friday for Schoneke and next Tuesday for Gonzalez.
According to the indictment, Schoneke and Gonzalez, with the help of co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast.
The indictment alleges Schoneke and Gonzalez found properties that they would list -- even though many, in fact, were not for sale, and they did not have authority to list them for sale -- and then marketed the properties as short sales providing opportunities for purchases at below-market prices.
Using other people's broker's licenses, Schoneke and Gonzalez allegedly listed the properties on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service. In some cases, the indictment alleges, the homes were marketed through open houses that co-conspirators were able to host after tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.
As part of the alleged scheme, the co-conspirators accepted multiple offers for each of the not-for-sale properties, hiding this fact from the victims and instead leading each of the victims to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted, according to federal prosecutors.
The co-conspirators allegedly were able to string along the victims -- sometimes for years -- by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.
The indictment also alleges that Schoneke and Gonzalez directed office workers to open bank accounts in the office workers' names. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full "purchase price" to these bank accounts after receiving forged short sale approval letters, prosecutors allege.
Schoneke and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from those accounts and give it to them -- a procedure that allowed the defendants to take possession of the fraud proceeds while hiding their involvement in the scheme.
Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million.