Joana Sosa, 54, and Zoila Ortega, 31, both of Gardena, California, have been charged with grand theft, burglary, unlawful collection of advance fees, tax evasion and conspiracy in a wide-ranging mortgage fraud scheme. Both suspects also face special enhancements for excessive taking and aggravated white-collar crime for losses to victims exceeding $350,000.
The arrest declaration alleges that the defendants ran a criminal mortgage fraud enterprise mainly against Spanish-speaking victims and targeted members of their own Spanish-speaking community. Many of the victims were often referred by other family and friends. Joana Sosa and Zoila Ortega are charged with 41 criminal felony counts. If convicted, they each face 36 years in prison, including fines and restitution. They were booked at the Los Angeles County Jail and remain in custody at this time.
From 2008 to 2010, Sosa and Ortega charged their victims thousands of dollars in up-front fees and monthly payments, promising to protect their victims from eviction by purchasing their property from their lender and becoming their new “lender.” Sosa and Ortega promised the victims a modified loan they could afford with the opportunity to buy back their home in the future. No services were rendered by Sosa and Ortega, resulting in consumers being evicted from their homes.
Additionally, Sosa and Ortega instructed several consumers to stop making their mortgage payment, and in some instances, to stop paying their bills all together. Consumers were told this would allow them to qualify for a loan modification. Over the last three years, Sosa did not file corporation income taxes. Many of the victims only spoke Spanish and were instructed to sign contracts in English.
In November 2011, the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into this matter based on information received by the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs Real Estate Fraud Unit. Agencies that assisted in this investigation include: California Department of Justice Special Agents with the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, the Franchise Tax Board and the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs Real Estate Fraud Unit.
Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the arrests.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General David Peyman, who is part of the Attorney General’s Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, which was formed in May 2011 to investigate and prosecute crimes related to mortgage, foreclosure and real estate fraud.
“As the mortgage crisis continues, we are seeing a troubling rise in fraud that targets struggling homeowners, including those with limited English language skills,” said Attorney General Harris. The predators targeting these victims are ruthless, and I am proud of our prosecutors and special agents for helping to bring them to justice.”