Dozens of people -- including a documented gang member -- were involved in a sophisticated mortgage fraud scheme involving 220 local properties, according to federal prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt's office said 24 people would be prosecuted in a RICO conspiracy in connection with the case. Prosecutors are alleging the Darnell Bell, a 38-year-old documented member of the Lincoln Park street gang, ran the scam, pocketing at least $9 million in criminal proceeds in a conspiracy that eventually netted more than $100 million
Multiple local real-estate businesses -- including the Real Estate Center of Southern California and the Real Estate Center of La Mesa -- were used in the scheme, prosecutors allege.
Officials said the suspects ID'd properties whose owners had reduced their asking prices, then "straw buyers" were recruited to buy the homes. Next, inflated offers were made on the homes and appraisers were "hired" to justify the higher home prices, according to prosecutors, and loans were taken out for 100 percent of the purchase prices.
Real-estate professionals were also charged in the indictment, including:
- Diana Jaime, a public notary
- Jose Cortez, a licensed real estate agent
- Esteban Valenzuala, a licensed real estate appraiser
Other suspects include:
Bell was arraigned Tuesday. He is serving a sentence for distributing cocaine. The other 23 suspects were arrested Tuesday and are due in court on April 8. If proven, the members of a racketeering conspiracy can face up to 20 years in prison.