Long Beach Woman Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Role in Telemarketing Scheme That Defrauded Thousands of Homeowners

Long Beach resident Crystal Taiwana Buck, 40, was one of four Southland residents sentenced Monday for her role in a telemarketing operation known as 21 Century Legal Services, among other names, that defrauded more than 4,000 homeowners across the country, many of whom lost their homes to foreclosure, a DOJ release stated.

In addition, the victims lost more than $7 million when they paid for services that were never provided.

According to the DOJ, Buck served as a sales “closer” who persuaded numerous victims to pay fees to 21 Century, and received a five-year sentence.

Other defendants sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips were:

  • Rancho Cucamonga resident Christopher Paul George, 45, a co-owner of 21 Century, who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
  • Fullerton resident Albert DiRoberto, 62, who handled both sales and marketing—including making a commercial for the company and preparing talking points to respond to negative publicity—was sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Rancho Cucamonga resident Yadira Garcia Padilla, 38, who handled client complaints and refund requests, and who posted bogus positive reviews about 21 Century on the internet, was sentenced to four years in prison.

George, Buck and DiRoberto were found guilty by a federal jury in June on various fraud charges and Padilla pleaded guilty in 2013, according to the release.

In addition, George was ordered on Monday to pay $7,065,117 in restitution to scam victims, and Buck, DiRoberto and Padilla will return to court next month for restitution hearings.

After an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, a total of 11 defendants linked to 21 Century have been convicted of federal fraud charges, the release stated.

According to authorities, Rancho Cucamonga resident Andrea Ramirez, 47, operated 21 Century during a 15-month period that began in the middle of 2008.

Ramirez previously pleaded guilty to fraud charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 15.

The company “defrauded financially distressed homeowners by making false promises and guarantees regarding 21 Century’s ability to negotiate loan modifications for homeowners,” according to the release. “Employees of 21 Century made numerous misrepresentations to victims during the course of the scheme, including falsely telling victims that 21 Century was operating a loan modification program sponsored by the U.S. government.”

Victims were told to stop communicating with their mortgage lenders and to cease making their mortgage payments.

George also acted as a sales manager—running his own sales office at 21 Century for several months.

While there, George instructed 21 Century employees to lie to distressed homeowners, including guaranteeing that 21 Century would obtain loan modifications and telling homeowners that payments made to 21 Century would go towards homeowners’ mortgages.

Employees contacted distressed homeowners through cold calls, newspaper ads and mailings, and the company controlled website that advertised loan modification services, DOJ officials stated.

Once in contact with the homeowners, employees falsely told clients that 21 Century 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, according to the release.

Employees also “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 21 Century,” the release stated. “On some occasions, 21 Century employees told homeowners that 21 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.”

Six other defendants have previously pleaded guilty, including:

  • Michael Bruce Baes 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.
  • Iris Melissa Pelayo of Upland, who has been sentenced to four years in federal prison.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.