Brothers charged in $1.5 million foreclosure fraud scheme - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Brothers charged in $1.5 million foreclosure fraud scheme

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two brothers were charged Tuesday with a $1.5 million foreclosure fraud scheme in which they allegedly stole the identity of several notaries and forged hundreds of deeds across several California counties, including San Diego.

David Zepeda, 57, and John Zepeda, 59, are each charged with 106 felony counts, including identity theft, forgery, grand theft and rent-skimming. They both face up to 72 years in prison if convicted, according to prosecutors.

The "brazen" conspiracy involved more than 300 victims, said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

"It was huge," she said.

John Zepeda pleaded not guilty Tuesday at arraignment before Judge David Szumowski, who set bail at $5 million. David Zepeda is hospitalized in San Bernardino and will be arraigned at a later date, prosecutors said.

The defendants allegedly purchased gold coins, silver bullion and a Bentley automobile with the proceeds from the foreclosure fraud scheme, which dates back to 2006.

"The scope of this particular real estate fraud and the defendants' purchases from their ill-gotten gains are extraordinary," Dumanis said. "But unfortunately, this is yet another example of the various types of foreclosure scams we continue to see in the county."

In San Diego, more than 40 alleged victims have been identified, with losses totaling approximately $100,000, Dumanis said.

Victims were also located in Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, as well as Clark County in Nevada, said Deputy District Attorney Valerie Tanney.

Prosecutors believe there are additional victims of the brothers' alleged foreclosure fraud in San Diego. Anyone who thinks they may have been victimized should call the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, Tanney said.

The defendants would hold seminars for people hoping to save their homes from foreclosures, according to the prosecutor.

"It is extravagant. They made a lot of money," she said of the defendants.

Authorities said the Zepeda brothers identified properties in foreclosure and acquired title either by forging a quitclaim deed, which transfers the property into a trust, or convincing homeowners to transfer the property to them by promising the homeowner they would help avoid foreclosure.

Once they had acquired the title, the Zepedas would rent out the property, according to authorities.

In order to forestall the foreclosure process and to extend the period over which they collected rent, the brothers also filed bankruptcy petitions, prosecutors said.

Money was diverted away from the lenders and owners and into accounts, where the cash was used to support the defendants' lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of exotic, high-end cars, prosecutors allege.

The Zepeda brothers were arrested Thursday at a home in San Bernardino.

During a search of the residence, investigators seized $335,000 in uncashed checks; a gold Geneva watch; a gold Rolex watch; diamond bracelets and rings; $33,000 in cash; more than $8,000 silver coins; gold troy ounces; boxes of rolled half-dollar coins; and a Bentley.

Notary stamps, forged deeds and weapons were also found during the search of the home and an office building, Tanney said at John Zepeda's arraignment.

The District Attorney's Office sought and received a court order to seize and freeze all of the assets as a source of restitution for the victims, investigators said.

During three weeks in July, a total of $800,000 was deposited into accounts controlled by the defendants, Tanney alleged.

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