LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Downey man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded an estimated $30 million from over 300 victims and a mortgage-fraud scam that preyed on homeowners who lost title to their properties.
Juan Rangel, who is already behind bars awaiting sentencing for a 2009 conviction for bribing a Bank of America branch manager, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to one count each of mail fraud and money laundering.
According to the signed plea agreement, prosecutors will ask Otero to sentence Rangel to 15 years in prison on Feb. 14.
Rangel, 48, was indicted last month on charges that he and his Commerce-based company, Financial Plus Investments, recruited investors through Spanish-language newspapers, magazines, radio spots and infomercials.
Prosecutors said investors were promised guaranteed returns of 60 percent each year out of the profits from Rangel’s real estate investments and his lending business.
Instead, Rangel used the victims’ cash to make monthly mortgage payments on his $3 million home, to lease a Lamborghini and a limousine, and to buy cocaine, prosecutors said.
Rangel participated in “a scheme to defraud investors” and used the U.S. mail to do so, Otero said Wednesday.
In the related mortgage fraud scheme, Rangel and others targeted Spanish- speaking homeowners who were at risk of losing their homes and offered to help them avoid foreclosure, Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Bowman said.
Rather than assist them, however, Rangel took titles to their homes and drained the remaining equity out of the properties, the prosecutor said.
As part of that scheme, Rangel arranged to sell the homeowners’ properties, usually without their knowledge, to third-party straw buyers, according to Bowman.
He then applied for loans in the straw buyers’ names and, using a variety of falsified documents, duped mortgage lenders into approving more than $10 million in bogus loans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The indictment also charges Javier Juanchi, 42, of Sherman Oaks, a vice president at Financial Plus, and Pablo Araque, 40, who owns Downey-based tax preparation and bookkeeping company A-One Tax Pros.
Juanchi and Araque, who were charged in the mortgage fraud only, are scheduled to face trial in March before Otero.
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