FRESNO  — Three defendants were sentenced Monday for running a foreclosure rescue scam in Bakersfield, Visalia and Salinas, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced Martin Calzada, 30, of Norwalk, to nine years in prison; Juan Curiel, 38, of Visalia, to three years and five months in prison; and Santiago Palacios-Hernandez, 48, of Salinas, to two years and nine months in prison. On March 10, 2017, Calzada was convicted by a jury of one count of conspiracy and eight counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution. In December 2014, Curiel and Palacios-Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

According to evidence presented during Calzada’s four-day trial, the defendants conspired to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. The three men operated Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia and Salinas, and 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, for ostensibly helping the clients own their homes “free and clear.” 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.

To advance the scheme, Calzada, Curiel, and Palacios-Hernandez filed fraudulent documents at county Recorders’ offices on behalf of the homeowner-clients. The fraudulent documents purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process. The defendants and other employees working at their direction told Star Reliable clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that Star Reliable clients had $1 million in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay off a homeowner’s mortgage.

As part of their sentences, the defendants were ordered to pay more than $1.1 million dollars in restitution to former Star Reliable clients and mortgage loan owners Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which suffered financial losses upon the foreclosure of several clients’ homes.

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