A Long Beach woman was one of 11 defendants sentenced Monday for their role in a bogus loan modification program that duped thousands of financially distressed homeowners out of more than $7 million.
Crystal Taiwana Buck, 40, of Long Beach, was sentenced to five years in prison for persuading numerous victims to pay fees to 21st Century, one of the aliases of the fraudulent company. Andrea Ramirez of Rancho Cucamonga, the founder and co-owner of the scheme, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
Ramirez directed Buck and others in a telemarketing operation known as various companies, including 21st Century Services, Inc. The scam bilked more than 4,000 homeowners across the nation, many of whom eventually lost their homes to foreclosure, according to a release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), issued today.
“This fraudulent company purposely targeted homeowners who were extremely vulnerable because they were facing foreclosure,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker in a statement. “Ramirez and her co-defendants made false promises to desperate homeowners, often took the last of their money and then abandoned them. Her contempt for her victims will put her in federal prison for nearly two decades.”
In addition to prison time, United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ordered Ramirez to pay $6,764,743 in restitution.
“As the ringleader in a scheme to dupe thousands of distressed homeowners out of their last dollar at the height of the financial crisis, Andrea Ramirez earned the next 18 years in federal prison, which she should use to reflect on her victims,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) in a statement.
The 11 defendants were convicted of fraud charges for participating in the 21st Century scheme, which took place over a 15-month period, beginning in mid-2008, according to the DOJ. Employees contacted homeowners with cold calls, newspaper ads, a website and mailings, making false guarantees to homeowners, telling them they could modify their loans through the government program through which the company was operating (not true).
According to the DOJ, the defendants regularly instructed homeowners to cut off contact with their lenders, as they assured them they would now be represented by 21st Century. The distressed homeowners would then cease to make their mortgage payments. Meanwhile, participants were pocketing the mortgage payment money.
“Fraudulent mortgage fraud schemes affect consumers at the most basic level, jeopardizing their ability to retain ownership of their homes,” said Robert Wemyss, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Los Angeles Division, in a statement. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to investigate these crimes to protect consumers and our nation's mail system from being used for illegal or dangerous purposes.”
The other defendants are as follows:
- Albert DiRoberto, 62, of Fullerton, who handled both sales and marketing – which included making a commercial for 21st Century – was sentenced to five years in prison.
- Yadira Garcia Padilla, 38, of Rancho Cucamonga – who, among other things, posted bogus positive reviews about 21st Century on the Internet – was sentenced to four years in prison.
- Michael Bruce Bates, of Moreno Valley, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
- Michael Lewis Parker, of Pomona, was sentenced to six years in prison.
- Catalina Deleon, of Glendora, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 14.
- Hamid Reza Shalviri, of Montebello, is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, December 10.
- Mindy Sue Holt, of San Bernardino, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
- Iris Melissa Pelayo, of Upland, was sentenced to four years in prison.