A California man has been sentenced to nine years in prison for his part in a $6 million real estate scam that involved listing homes without homeowners’ consent and collecting money from potential buyers.
Adolfo Schoneke, 45, was sentenced on October 24 after pleading guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in May. His sister and a co-conspirator, 39-year-old Bianca Gonzalez, pleaded guilty to the same charges in April and is due to be sentenced in May 2023.
Schoneke, his sister and their co-conspirators operated real estate and trust companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under several names including MCR and West Coast Realty Services. They found properties for sale even though they had no intention of selling and many of the properties were not for sale.
The properties were listed on property websites and marketed as short sale opportunities at below market prices. Some homes were marketed through open houses arranged by getting homeowners to allow their homes to be used.
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“The scam [Schoneke] invented, proposed to his co-conspirators, and carried out involved uniquely underhanded means to steal money from as many victims as possible,” a prosecution-filed sentencing memorandum said. [Schoneke] found a way to ‘sell’ houses he didn’t own and had nothing to do with putting them up for sale.”
The victims were led to believe that their offer for a house was the only one that was accepted, although several offers were accepted for houses that were not actually for sale.
The co-conspirators kept victims busy for years in some cases, claiming that the closures were delayed because lenders had to approve the alleged short sales.
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Bank accounts were opened by clerks to disguise the co-conspirators’ involvement in the scam. The accounts were used to collect down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to pay the full “purchase price” after receiving fake short sale approval letters.
The clerks were ordered by the co-conspirators to withdraw large amounts of money from these accounts, making it difficult to trace the proceeds.
As part of the program, Schoneke and his co-conspirators collected more than $11.7 million from about 750 victims, according to the verdict. Some victims were compensated, but the program caused more than $6 million in losses to nearly 400 victims.
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A redress hearing is scheduled for December 12, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
Co-conspirator Mario Gonzalez, 50, pleaded guilty to a similar count of wire fraud conspiracy in January 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 3, 2023. He has no relationship with Bianca Gonzalez.