SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The "brains" behind a scam in which hundreds of homeowners were falsely told that "land patents" would protect their properties from foreclosure was sentenced Friday to 20 years and four months in state prison.
Larry Smith, 63, was found guilty last June of 21 felony counts, including grand theft and unlawful practices by a foreclosure consultant.
Deputy District Attorney Marlene Coyne told jurors that Smith and 17 co-defendants had homeowners shell out thousands of dollars for "land patents" under a false promise that their homes would be protected from foreclosure.
A half-dozen victims testified that they lost their homes because of the scam, and others were left to negotiate how to catch up on their payments to their mortgage holders.
Coyne said she presented 43 victims at the trial before Judge Laura Halgren.
"They were just the tip of the iceberg," the prosecutor said outside the courtroom.
Hundreds were bilked around Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii and other places, she said.
Smith -- who has prior convictions for second-degree murder, robbery and burglary -- and 17 co-defendants put on seminars that convinced people that declaring sovereignty would help them avoid foreclosure on their homes.
The sovereignty concept was "nonsense," according to Coyne.
The prosecutor said Smith used cash and money orders obtained from the victims to purchase three homes, buy a Mercedes-Benz worth more than $100,000 and travel first-class with some of his female co-defendants.
"Larry Smith was definitely the brains of the organization," Coyne said.
A jury deliberated into a third week before finding the defendant guilty.