5 sentenced to prison for fraud scheme that targeted homeowners

Five participants in a massive fraud scheme were sentenced today in Los Angeles to one to 15 years in federal prison.

The defendants were found guilty of conning homeowners facing foreclosure out of millions of dollars in equity.

U.S. District Judge George H. King saved the harshest sentence — and words — for co-defendant Edward Seung Ok, a 43-year-old former resident of Huntington Beach, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Ok "is more culpable than all the other defendants'' and "falls far short in the full acceptance of responsibility,'' King said.

According to prosecutors, Ok and ringleader Martha Rodriguez masterminded the con targeting more than 100 homeowners throughout the Southland who were seeking to avoid foreclosure.

By telling the homeowners they could stave off foreclosure with short-term loans and refinancing, she and those working with her skimmed off more than $12 million in equity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory A. Lesser said.

Although the homeowners were promised the process would allow them to keep their homes, they ended up losing title.

In reality, new loans were obtained through the use of "straw buyers'' who lenders were led to believe were real buyers. The new loans were used to buy the homes from the owners by paying off the balance on their existing mortgages, and the ring would pocket the remaining money.

The banks that funded the new mortgages also lost money when the straw buyers didn't make the loan payments, and the new loans went into default.

King sentenced the 38-year-old Rodriguez to 10 years in prison.

Also sentenced today were:
-Maria G. Juarez, 38, of Diamond Bar, who received three years in federal prison;

-Vladimir Stefanovic, 38, of Lancaster, who was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars; and

-Cynthia Valenzuela, a 27-year-old Downey resident who worked for Rodriguez as an escrow officer, who was sentenced to a year and day in prison.

Under her plea deal, Rodriguez also agreed to forfeit her interest in five homes, a truck and about $900,000 in cash seized by the government, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

All five defendants pleaded guilty.