RIVERSIDE, California– The founder and co-owner of a Rancho Cucamonga business was sentenced today to 18 years in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme that offered bogus loan modification programs to thousands of financially distressed homeowners who lost more than $7 million when they paid for services that were never provided.
Andrea Ramirez, 47, of Rancho Cucamonga, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered the defendant to pay $6,764,743 in restitution.
Ramirez was the organizer of a telemarketing operation known under a series of names – including 21stCentury Legal Services, Inc. – that bilked more than 4,000 homeowners across the nation, many of whom lost their homes to foreclosure. Ramirez was sentenced today after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
“This fraudulent company purposely targeted homeowners who were extremely vulnerable because they were facing foreclosure,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “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.”
Previously in this case, the other co-owner of 21stCentury – Christopher Paul George, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga, was sentenced by Judge Phillips to 20 years in federal prison.
A total of 11 defendants linked to 21stCentury have been convicted of federal fraud charges as a result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; IRS – Criminal Investigation; the United States Postal Inspection Service; the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP); and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.
“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).
During a 15-month period that began in the middle of 2008, Ramirez operated 21stCentury, which defrauded financially distressed homeowners by making false promises and guarantees regarding 21stCentury's ability to negotiate loan modifications for homeowners. Employees of 21stCentury made numerous misrepresentations to victims during the course of the scheme, including falsely telling victims that 21stCentury was operating a loan modification program sponsored by the United States government. Victims were generally instructed to stop communicating with their mortgage lenders and to cease making their mortgage payments.
21stCentury employees contacted distressed homeowners through cold calls, newspaper ads and mailings. The company also controlled websites that advertised loan modification services. Once they contacted the distressed homeowners, 21stCentury employees often falsely told clients that the company 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. 21stCentury employees 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 21stCentury. On some occasions, 21stCentury employees told homeowners that 21stCentury 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.
After federal authorities executed a search warrant at 21stCentury, Ramirez relocated 21stCentury's offices, renamed the company and made it appear it was operating out of Las Vegas, Nevada.
“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. “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.”
Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez of IRS-Criminal Investigation of the Los Angeles Field Office stated: “Ms. Ramirez took advantage of unsuspecting homeowners hoping to keep a roof over their heads. Hopefully she will now understand that her irresponsible actions have real consequences.”
In addition to Ramirez and George, nine other defendants have been convicted for their roles in the 21stCentury scam. They are:
• Crystal Taiwana Buck, 40, of Long Beach, who persuaded numerous victims to pay fees to 21stCentury, was sentenced to five years in prison;
• Albert DiRoberto, 62, of Fullerton, who handled both sales and marketing – which included making a commercial for 21stCentury – was sentenced to five years in prison;
• Yadira Garcia Padilla, 38, of Rancho Cucamonga – who, among other things, posted bogus positive reviews about 21stCentury 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; and
• Iris Melissa Pelayo, of Upland, was sentenced to four years in prison.
USAO – California, Central Updated December 7, 2015
Central District of California DOJ / 15-144 / December 7, 2015