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Real Estate Con Artist Cheats $6 Million Out Of Hundreds Of Victims Through Fake Open House Scheme

For sale sign in front of house in East Hollywood (Lexis-Olivier Ray, April 2022).

As if it wasn’t challenging enough to buy a house in the Los Angeles area, between the high costs and competitive market, now aspiring homeowners need to be wary of scams as well. On Monday, Adolfo Schoneke, 44, of Torrance, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a multimillion-dollar scheme involving fake open houses and not-for-sale homes. Schoneke’s sister, Bianca Gonzalez, 39, pleaded guilty to the same crime a month earlier.

For at least three years, between 2013 and 2016, Schoneke, Gonzalez, and their co-conspirators cheated several hundred prospective homebuyers out of an estimated $6 million. They set up fake real estate and escrow companies in Cerritos, Long Beach, and La Palma under names like MCR and Westcoast Realty Services. They then found homes in Rosemead, Whittier, Ontario, Gardena and other parts of California to list on real estate websites and sell to unsuspecting victims using other people’s brokers licenses. In reality, they had no authority to sell the homes, and the actual homeowners weren’t interested in selling.

Some properties were sold “sight unseen,” others were marketed as “short sale opportunities,” a situation when a distressed homeowner sells their property for less than the amount due on their mortgage. According to Schoneke’s plea agreement, in some instances, Gonzalez and other co-conspirators even arranged open houses and showings at the properties, sometimes by paying off the owners in exchange for access to their homes.

When it came time to make a deal, Schoneke and Gonzalez told victims they were the only offer. But behind their backs, multiple offers were accepted on each property. According to prosecutors, in 2016, in just a two-week period Schoneke and Gonzalez got four victims to wire more than $745,000 to bank accounts controlled by them as payments for various properties that they had no authority to sell or ownership in. They forged sales agreements and signatures to convince victims that sellers had accepted their offers.

Schoneke and Gonzalez had other people set up bank accounts in their names to collect deposits and other payments from victims, making it more challenging for authorities to follow the money. Meanwhile, Schoneke and Gonzalez told their victims that the money would be held safely in an escrow account when the proceeds were withdrawn from the accounts as cash and split between themselves and people on the scam.

According to Schoneke’s plea agreement, Gonzalez provided scripts to other co-conspirators who were directed to give victims updates on the fake short sale approval process and transaction status. By telling victims closings were being delayed due to lender approval, Schoneke and Gonzalez were able to string some victims along for years in some cases.

When some victims tried to bail on the transaction and demanded their money back, some money was returned to certain victims to keep the scam going and discourage victims from going to law enforcement. In other instances, victims were straight-up ghosted.

The feds eventually caught up with Schoneke and Gonzalez after the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began receiving “numerous complaints.” In addition to Schoneke and Gonzalez, Mario Gonzalez, 50, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in 2019. Mario Gonzalez will face sentencing in October. Schoneke will face sentencing in August and Bianca Gonzalez in early October.

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