Former Fresno-Area Auto Dealer Sentenced to 4.5 Years in Prison for Bank Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft
FRESNO, Calif. — After a four-day trial, a federal jury found Martin Calzada, 29, of Norwalk, guilty today of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and eight counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. The trial was held before United States Chief District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill.
According to evidence presented at trial, Calzada conspired to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. Calzada and other employees of Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia, and Salinas, targeted distressed homeowners with a fraudulent “loan elimination” scheme. Between approximately August 2010 and October 2011, Star Reliable charged clients an upfront fee for its services – ranging from $2,500 up to $4,500 – as well as monthly fees, based on false promises that the clients could own their homes “free and clear” as a result of Star Reliable’s services. Clients paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Star Reliable and at least $300,000 was transferred from Star Reliable into Calzada’s bank accounts. In furtherance of the scheme, Calzada and other employees at Star Reliable filed at county recorders’ offices fraudulent documents on behalf of the homeowner-clients, which purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts affiliated with the defendant and Star Reliable, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process. Additionally, Calzada, and other employees working at his direction told Star Reliable clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that Star Reliable clients had one million dollars in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay-off a homeowner’s mortgage.
According to court documents, instead of owning their homes “free and clear,” many of Star Reliable’s clients lost their homes in foreclosure. The scheme caused more than 100 homeowner-clients to pay approximately $875,000 to Star Reliable and lending institutions to lose more than $4 million.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher D. Baker and Patrick J. Suter are prosecuting the case.
Calzada was remanded into custody following the announcement of the verdict. In a related case in December 2014, co-conspirators Juan Ramon Curiel, 38, of Visalia, and Santiago Palacios-Hernandez, 47, of Salinas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Curiel additionally pleaded guilty to one count of bankruptcy fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O’Neill on April 10, 2017.
Calzada is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O'Neill on June 5, 2017. Calzada faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.