A 35-year-old Rancho Cucamonga man was in custody Wednesday on suspicion of posing as a lawyer in an alleged multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud homebuyers in multiple fake home sales across Southern California.
Ernest “Ruben” Vargas was arrested Dec. 11, Garden Grove police announced Wednesday, and was suspected of being at the center of a complicated real estate scheme that involved fraudulent grant deeds for homes in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Police were looking for additional victims of Vargas, or those who may have been involved in real estate transactions with him, according to Garden Grove police Lt. Jeff Nightengale. Vargas allegedly falsely posed as an attorney specializing in loan modifications and real estate transactions.
So far, only four victims have been identified, but more are believed to exist, Nightengale said.
Police believe at least $2 million was exchanged in transactions allegedly arranged by Vargas.
“They’re scratching the surface at this point,” Nightengale said of the investigation.
During searches of Vargas’ Rancho Cucamonga home and several offices in Orange County, police seized evidence related to the alleged scheme, as well as a Maserati, a Cadillac Escalade, a Mercedes SUV, a Hummer, “proof of lavish Las Vegas trips” and expensive jewelry.
Vargas is accused of selling homes in which he had no interest to investors who were making the purchases sight unseen.
He allegedly had a network of employees who forged grant deeds and had loan documents signed illegally; the documents were then used to sell a still-unknown number of homes that were occupied by unwitting homeowners.
“He’s ripping off the investors,” Nightengale said.
When the investors went to the homes, many of which were likely to be “flipped,” the homeowner would respond, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nightengale said.
Homeowners could also be considered victims, Nightengale said, because they’ll have to pay to have the fraudulent deeds reversed. Vargas allegedly filed the documents at county clerks’ offices.
Police have been investigating the scheme for four to five months, the lieutenant said. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is already involved, even though the case has not yet been filed with prosecutors, because of the complicated nature of the investigation, Nightengale said.
Anyone who believes they were victimized or who has information regarding Vargas was asked to call Investigator Melnyk of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office at 714-347-8758 or Detective Heine of the Garden Grove Police Department at 714-741-5422.
Vargas was being held at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange and was due in court Dec. 27.