Victims lose $12.3M in real estate scams

It was the type of crime that investigators regularly see in real estate fraud cases — Maria Fe Valdez and her sister, Marissa Cruz, allegedly befriended a developmentally disabled man who worked at Goodwill Industries with Cruz.

The man, who was in his 50s, had always lived with his parents, who had recently died. The victim inherited his parents’ home, but prosecutors say the women and Cruz’s husband preyed on his naiveté and convinced him to take out a loan against the house and give the money to them.

Valdez was the single conviction in real estate fraud this year for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, pleading guilty to defrauding the man of more than $250,000 from the sale of his Daly City home. Cruz is fighting the charges and expects to be in court in February. Cruz’s ex-husband Dennis Cruz also pleaded guilty to the crime recently.

Victims of real estate fraud lost $12.3 million in San Francisco between 2008 and 2009 in schemes that targeted the elderly, mentally disabled and Hispanic immigrants.

The District Attorney’s Office had 34 cases involving real estate fraud open in July of this year, according to a report sent to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, which oversees such investigations.

Prosecutors brought 20 new cases to court in the last fiscal year, with the one conviction of Valdez. About $80,000 in fees was put into a special fund to fight these crimes.

District Attorney Kamala Harris and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting said they will use legislation sponsored by Supervisors David Campos and Sophie Maxwell and passed in late August to crack down on real estate fraud, especially from predatory loan
consultants.

The ordinance requires a written contract for services offered by mortgage loan modification providers and provides for enforcement with criminal penalties and a private cause of action for aggrieved homeowners.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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