Like any legitimate real estate and escrow agents in the red-hot Southern California housing market, Adolfo Schoneke and his sister, Bianca Gonzalez, held open houses and accepted bids on multiple homes.
The siblings and others operated real estate companies in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach.
But there was a problem: The homes they showed were not for sale.
In reality, the houses were a front for a scheme that resulted in the loss of more than $6 million for hundreds of victims, federal prosecutors said this week.
Now, Schoneke, Gonzalez and co-conspirators face federal prison time for the scheme.
Schoneke, 45, of Torrance was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.
Gonzalez, 39, pleaded guilty in April to her role in wire fraud and is set to be sentenced in May.
“Playing on the dream of home ownership and seemingly out of reach home prices, [Schoneke] figured out a way to ‘sell’ homes that he did not own and had no business in listing for sale,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
According to prosecutors, Schoneke and others found properties to list for sale — regardless of whether the owners intended to sell or not — and listed them on real estate websites, marketing them as short-sale opportunities.
“In some cases, the homes were marketed through open houses arranged by tricking homeowners or occupants into allowing their homes to be used,” prosecutors said.
Multiple offers were accepted for the properties, but each would-be buyer was told that their offer was the only one accepted.
Each “purchase” was delayed, sometimes for years, as buyers were told the sales required approval.
“Office workers opened bank accounts to hide the co-conspirators’ involvement in the fraud,” prosecutors said.
Buyers would transfer payments into the accounts, in some cases for the full purported purchase price.
“The co-conspirators directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts, which made the proceeds harder to trace,” prosecutors said.
Mario Gonzalez, 51 — no relation to Bianca Gonzalez — pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a related case in 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
In total, Schoneke and the others collected nearly $12 million from approximately 750 victims.
Some of the victims were paid back, but nearly 400 people ultimately lost more than $6 million in the scheme. A restitution hearing for Schoneke is set for December.