SANTA ANA ( — People were cheated out of hundreds of dollars for a bogus list of homes and apartments for rent in what detectives have called a phony rental referral operation.

Authorities said that for a fee of $200, clients would buy a list of apartments and homes from First Step Rentals, a Santa Ana rental listing business.

The properties, however, were never available.

“They’ll go there, it’s a business or it’s a place that’s vacant, it’s not a legitimate place that’s for rent,” Santa Ana police Cpl. Shannon Rackley said. “So they come back here requesting a refund, and they’re denied the refunds stating that they didn’t follow the guidelines that were listed in their contract.”

Victims have been contacting Santa Ana police since last fall.

“We were depending on this agency that they were going to find us a house, and they never called back … were never in touch with us at all,” customer Karen Flores said.

Dan Pounds, a new First Step employee, was caught in the middle of a search warrant that was served to the business Wednesday.

Pounds told reporters he’d get a $50 to $70 commission for each client who would sign up for the referral service.

According to police, many of the victims were immigrants and low-income residents.

“I feel bad for them, obviously, ’cause I know everybody has hard earned money and everybody is looking for a place to live. It’s tough. It’s tough now in this market, and you’ve got people out there who are scamming, and it makes you feel bad that you were a part of it,” Pounds said.

KCAL9’s Michele Gile reports that the referral service only accepted cash or debit cards, and they may have operated in other cities as well.

Police are now looking for Raymond Fuentes, the man listed on an expired business license.


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