This gives a whole new meaning to the term money pit.
A brother-sister team of scammers posing as real estate agents ripped off hundreds of prospective home buyers in Southern California to the tune of $6 million by taking down payments on homes that weren’t even for sale, prosecutors say.
Adolfo Schoneke, 44, of Torrance, Calif., pleaded guilty to the scam on Monday, joining his 39-year-old sister, Blanca Schoneke, who also went by Bianca Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty in April.
Both face up to 20 years in federal prison. Her attorney declined to comment, and his attorney didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The scam dates back to 2013, when the pair joined forces with alleged accomplice Mario Gonzalez, a licensed real estate agent, and began listing homes for sale at below market prices in an official sales database used by brokers, prosecutors said. None of the homes were actually for sale.
Mario Gonzalez pleaded guilty to wire fraud in a related case in 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced along with Blanca Gonzalez in October. The two are not related. Mario Gonzalez’s attorney declined to comment.
Because the homes were advertised at such low sales prices, the listings generated substantial interest from buyers.
In some cases, the team would trick the home owners into letting them use their houses for a fee, and then they would stage phony open houses for prospective buyers, prosecutors say. Sometimes they advertised that the houses were being sold sight unseen, according to court documents.
Prosecutors say the group often listed the homes as “short sales,” meaning they were being sold at a price below the value of the mortgage on the home, which would require extra approvals from the bank.
The group would then accept offers — sometimes more than one to a house — and direct the buyers to deposit down payments in supposed escrow accounts that the scammers actually controlled.
They would issue sales documents with forged signatures to the prospective buyers, but then would stall on closing the transaction, saying the bank had additional questions and requirements, prosecutors said.
But instead, they would walk off with the buyers’ cash, prosecutors said.
Over three years, several hundred buyers were fleeced, netting the defendants some $6 million, prosecutors said.