A Fremont woman was sentenced today to a five-year prison term for a foreclosure fraud scam that targeted struggling Northern California homeowners. Prosecutors said that between June 2008 and October 2009 Angeline Lisa Lizarrago, 69, and co-defendant Michael Young, a 68-year-old Los Gatos man, targeted Spanish-speaking homeowners as well as immigrants from Southeast Asia who were desperate to save their homes.
The case was jointly prosecuted by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward. Prosecutors said Lizarrago, the owner of Fremont-based Avemos Financial Group and Young, Avemos’s general manager, promised clients they would take steps to stop banks from immediately foreclosing on homes and to renegotiate clients’ loans to reflect the homes’ current market values.
Clients paid $1,500 or more for just entering the business, which was decorated with shrines to the Virgin Mary, and filling out information forms, according to prosecutors. Lizarrago and Young guaranteed to refund the fees if they were unsuccessful in securing a loan, they said. Lizarrago promised she would take steps to stop banks from foreclosing on clients’ homes and renegotiate their loans to lower monthly loan payments and reflect their homes’ current market value, prosecutors said.
But they said most of Avemos’s clients did not have the income to avert foreclosure through a loan modification and lost their homes in the foreclosure process and never received a refund from Avemos. Victims of the scam were located throughout the Bay Area, including San Leandro, Hayward, Oakland, South San Francisco and Fremont. There were also a substantial number of victims from the Central Valley.
Lizarrago initially was charged with 23 felony counts stemming from the foreclosure fraud scam and faced more than 15 years in prison. But on Oct. 28 prosecutors agreed to allow her to plead guilty to a single count of grand theft plus an admission that she was on bail from Madera County at the time she committed the offense and has a prior felony conviction for grand theft.
In addition to sentencing her to five years, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy ordered her to pay $31,942 in restitution to nine victms of her foreclosure scam. A hearing will be held in February for two additional victims who are seeking restitution. Young has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and is scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 23.
Prosecutors say the charges against Lizarrago and Young are based on 11 cases of fraud but they believe there are more than 50 victims and the investigation into further criminal actions against them is ongoing. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement that her office “will remain highly vigilant in our effort to identify and prosecute people who prey upon distressed homeowners in these difficult economic times.
“California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who began her career as a prosecutor in Alameda County, said, “Protecting innocent homeowners from the empty promises by predators like Angeline Lizarrago is a top priority of my office.”Harris said, “Those who take advantage of Californians facing foreclosure are not only breaking the law, they also are slowing California’s recovery from the economic recession.”
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