RIVERSIDE (CBS) – A Los Angeles man who stole tens of thousands of dollars from Riverside County property owners he deceived in a money-for-deeds scam was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail and three years probation.
Pablo Alfonso Fourquet, 37, was also ordered by Superior Court Judge Richard Fields to pay $417,000 in restitution to his victims.
Fourquet pleaded guilty on Oct. 11 to grand theft by false pretenses.
The defendant was originally charged with three other felonies and a misdemeanor count, along with sentence-enhancing allegations, including one for committing a white-collar crime in excess of $100,000.
Fields dismissed those charges as part of the plea agreement the defense reached with the District Attorney’s Office earlier this month.
Between April 2010 and April 2011, Fourquet operated a business called Title Compliance Office that used official-looking stationary, making it appear to be a government agency, according to prosecutors.
The defendant distributed letters to property owners in the county, as well as in the Los Angeles area, Phoenix and Las Vegas, stating that the recipients needed certified copies of their grant deeds to prove ownership of their homes, according to the D.A.’s office.
The letters played on the victims’ fears of foreclosure, indicating there could be problems with loan modifications, and offered to obtain copies of deeds for a sum of $167 each, prosecutors said.
A certified copy of a deed, which is rarely required, can be obtained from the county assessor’s office for $10.
According to the D.A.’s office, 2,500 people fell victim to the scam and sent payments to Fourquet.
During the ensuing investigation, authorities seized more than $500,000 from his bank accounts.
In response to the scheme and similar ones perpetrated by parties in and out of California, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law which prohibits solicitors from claiming that foreclosure activity makes it necessary to obtain a copy of a deed.
The law passed in October 2010 also requires a seller to explicitly state that he is not affiliated with any government agency, nor suggest that there is a deadline in obtaining a copy.
Failure to comply could result in fines and other penalties.