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(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the felony arrests of two Monterey Park residents in connection with a “squatter” scam in which the defendants victimized elderly and other homeowners by unlawfully taking possession of roughly 100 houses, and subsequently renting out the property and keeping the income for themselves.
“These defendants have lied, cheated, stolen and unjustly enriched themselves through criminal conduct,” said Lockyer. “They have taken people’s homes out from under them, committed fraud to keep possession of those houses, and in some cases trashed victims’ family pictures and other cherished belongings. They have victimized vulnerable folks, including the elderly and people suffering from dementia and other mental illnesses. My office will work hard to bring justice to them and their victims.”
Taken into custody this morning and booked in the Los Angeles County Jail on $1.4 million bail each were Jesus Duran Aguayo, 52, and Sofia Aguayo, 52, both of Monterey Park. The husband and wife each will be charged with following felonies: one count of grand theft, two counts of residential burglary, two counts of forgery, two counts of vandalism, four counts of trespassing, seven counts of filing false documents, two counts of elder abuse and one count of conspiracy. If convicted on all counts, each defendant could face roughly 20 years in state prison. Lockyer also will seek to force the defendants to pay restitution to victims.
Agents from the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation (CBI) executed search warrants this morning at two houses where the Aguayos resided or worked – one in Downey and the other in Monterey Park. Search warrants also were executed at the couple’s bank in downtown Los Angeles and a post office box in Downey registered in their names.
Jesus Aguayo is a licensed real estate broker, and Sofia Aguayo is a licensed real estate agent. A year-long investigation by Lockyer’s office revealed that since at least April 2005 the Aguayos had perpetrated a complex variation of the illegal squatter scheme. According to court documents filed by Lockyer’s office in support of the search and arrest warrants, the basic scam worked like this:
First, the Aguayos would troll Los Angeles County looking for homes for which back taxes were owed. They then conducted surveillance on such homes to find out if they were occupied. If they determined the homes were unoccupied, they paid the delinquent taxes. They then filed fraudulent quit claim deeds that purported to transfer the property between themselves – without the legal owner’s knowledge or consent.
Having used fraud to lay a phony legal claim to the property, the Aguayos put fences around the home, made repairs, then rented the house and kept the money. When confronted by the rightful owners or their family members, the Aguayos in some cases lied or forged documents in an attempt to keep possession of the homes, the court papers allege. The investigation uncovered about 100 instances in which the Aguayos attempted to perpetrate some form of this fraud.
In the process of unjustly enriching themselves, the defendants inflicted severe financial damage on their victims, said Lockyer. He cited court documents filed by his office that allege the defendants’ use of “a sophisticated and organized criminal technique” defrauded victims of real and personal property valued at more than $5 million.
A CBI agent’s court declaration, submitted in support of the search warrants, details seven cases in which the Aguayos perpetrated the alleged crimes. One especially egregious case involves a 78-year-old Los Angeles homeowner named Richard Dee. He told investigators that when he was living temporarily in a nursing home, he forgot to pay property taxes on the home he inherited from his mother.
In Dee’s absence, the Aguayos perpetrated their fraudulent scheme to take possession of his home without his knowledge. Dee’s neighbors believed he had died and that the house had been sold. Neighbors told investigators that all of Dee’s “furniture and personal belongings, including old family photos and his mother’s paintings,” had been tossed into a garbage bin in front of the home. Dee’s 1967 red Ford Mustang also disappeared, neighbors told investigators, and a chain link fence was placed around the house.
With help from a legal aid attorney, Dee eventually got his home back from the Aguayos. But he can’t live in the house because the Aguayos failed to finish the work they started on the roof. As a result, Dee has been forced to continue living in a nursing home
Lockyer’s office received valuable assistance in the Aguayo investigation from the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. Other local agencies that aided the probe include the Southgate Police Department and the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office.
Consumers who feel they have been victimized by a similar real estate scam should file a complaint online at the Attorney General's web site, http://ag.ca.gov/contact/complaint_form.php?cmplt=CL, or by regular mail addressed to Public Inquiry Unit, Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.