South Bay Man Pleads Guilty to Participating in a Multimillion-Dollar Real Estate Scam Involving Fake Open Houses at Not-for-Sale Homes
LOS ANGELES – A South Bay man pleaded guilty today to a federal criminal charge for participating with his sister in a $6 million real estate scam that involved listing homes without the owners’ consent and collecting money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.
Adolfo Schoneke, 44, of Torrance, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner has scheduled an August 8 sentencing hearing, at which time Schoneke will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
On April 4, Schoneke’s sister, Bianca Gonzalez, 39, a.k.a. Blanca Schoneke, pleaded guilty to the same criminal charge. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 3.
According to court papers, from November 2013 to December 2016, Schoneke and Gonzalez, along with co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast Realty Services. Schoneke, Gonzalez and other co-conspirators found properties that they would list for sale – even though they did not intend to sell them to anyone.
The properties were listed on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and were marketed as below-market short sales opportunities. In some cases, the homes were marketed through open houses arranged by tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.
Multiple offers were accepted for each of the not-for-sale properties, but the co-conspirators hid this fact from the victims and instead led each victim to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted. The co-conspirators strung victims along – sometimes for years – by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.
At the co-conspirators’ direction, office workers opened bank accounts to hide the co-conspirators’ involvement in the fraud. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full “purchase price” after receiving forged short sale approval letters. The co-conspirators directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts, which made the proceeds harder to trace.
Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million during the scheme.
A co-conspirator, Mario Gonzalez, 50, was charged in a related case and pleaded guilty in January 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His sentencing is scheduled for October 3.
The FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General investigated this matter. The investigation was initiated by numerous complaints to the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, both of which provided substantial assistance during the federal investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Kerry L. Quinn of the Major Frauds Section is prosecuting this case.