Four people who worked at a Rancho Cucamonga business that offered bogus loan modification programs to thousands of financially distressed homeowners – victims who lost more than $7 million when they paid for services that were never provided – were sentenced today to federal prison, with one of the leaders of the scheme being ordered to spend 20 years in custody.
The Southland residents sentenced today were convicted of federal fraud charges for their roles in a telemarketing operation known under a series of names – including 21st Century Legal Services, Inc. – that bilked more than 4,000 homeowners across the nation, many of whom lost their homes to foreclosure.
The defendants sentenced today by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips were:
• Christopher Paul George, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga, a co-owner of 21st Century, who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison;
• Crystal Taiwana Buck, 40, of Long Beach, a sales “closer” who persuaded numerous victims to pay fees to 21st Century, who received a sentence of five years;
• Albert DiRoberto, 62, of Fullerton, who handled both sales and marketing – which included making a commercial for 21st Century and preparing talking points to respond to negative publicity – was sentenced to five years in prison; and
• Yadira Garcia Padilla, 38, of Rancho Cucamonga – who handled client complaints and refund requests, and who posted bogus positive reviews about 21st Century on the Internet – was sentenced to four years in prison.
George, Buck and DiRoberto were sentenced after being found guilty by a federal jury in June on various fraud charges. Padilla pleaded guilty in 2013.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Phillips today ordered George to pay $7,065,117 in restitution to victims of the scam. Buck, DiRoberto and Padilla were ordered to return to court next month for restitution hearings.
A total of 11 defendants linked to 21st Century have been convicted of federal fraud charges as a result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; IRS – Criminal Investigation; the United States Postal Inspection Service; the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP); and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.
During a 15-month period that began in the middle of 2008, a Rancho Cucamonga woman – Andrea Ramirez, 47, who previously pleaded guilty to fraud charges and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Phillips of November 15 – operated 21st Century, which defrauded financially distressed homeowners by making false promises and guarantees regarding 21st Century’s ability to negotiate loan modifications for homeowners.
Employees of 21st Century made numerous misrepresentations to victims during the course of the scheme, including falsely telling victims that 21st Century was operating a loan modification program sponsored by the United States government. Victims were generally instructed to stop communicating with their mortgage lenders and to cease making their mortgage payments.
In addition to being a co-owner of 21st Century, George acted as a sales manager, and he ran his own sales office there for several months. George instructed 21st Century employees to make misrepresentations to distressed homeowners, including guaranteeing that 21st Century would obtain loan modifications and telling homeowners that payments made to 21st Century would go towards homeowners’ mortgages.
21st Century employees contacted distressed homeowners through cold calls, newspaper ads and mailings, and the company controlled websites that advertised loan modification services. Once they contacted the distressed homeowners, 21st Century employees often falsely told clients that the company was operating through a federal government program, that they would be able to obtain new mortgages with specific interest rates and reduced payments, and that attorneys would negotiate loan modifications with their lenders. 21st Century employees regularly instructed financially distressed homeowners to cease making mortgage payments to their lenders and to cut off all contact with their lenders because they were being represented by 21st Century. On some occasions, 21st Century employees told homeowners that 21st Century was using the fees paid by the homeowner to make mortgage payments, when Ramirez, George and their co-defendants simply were pocketing the homeowners’ money.
In addition to Ramirez and the four sentenced today, six other defendants previously pleaded guilty. They are:
• Michael Bruce Bates, of Moreno Valley, who is scheduled to be sentenced on October 19;
• Michael Lewis Parker, of Pomona, who is scheduled to be sentenced on November 19;
• Catalina Deleon, of Glendora, who is scheduled to be sentenced on December 14;
• Hamid Reza Shalviri, of Montebello, who is scheduled to be sentenced on December 7;
• Mindy Sue Holt, of San Bernardino, who is scheduled to be sentenced on October 26; and
• Iris Melissa Pelayo, of Upland, who has been sentenced to four years in federal prison.