2 Charged in Engineering Fraud Case That May Have Left Hundreds of Southern California Homes Unsafe

Two men were hit with 487 counts on Wednesday in a complaint alleging they spent years running a scam that has potentially left hundreds of homeowners across Southern California with homes that may not be structurally sound.

Reuben Gutierrez, left, and Wilfrido Rodriguez are seen in driver's license photos released Feb. 2, 2016, by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Reuben Gutierrez, left, and Wilfrido Rodriguez are seen in driver’s license photos released Feb. 2, 2016, by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Huntington Beach resident Ruben Gutierrez, 43, and 46-year-old Wilfrido Rodriguez of Downey each face numerous counts of forgery, identity theft and grand theft in a scheme involving falsified documents and fraudulent engineering services, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Both were arrested on Feb. 27, more than two years after they were identified as persons of interest in the case in February 2016, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Investigators discovered more than 735 potential victims throughout 56 Southern California cities across seven counties, sheriff’s officials said.

The fraudulent activity was tied to a legitimate business, the Palos Verdes Engineering Co., which was unaware the two men were posing as licensed civil engineers. The Rolling Hills Estates company, founded in 1985, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

It was the business’ owners who originally contacted authorities in April 2014 to inform them of the alleged fraudulent activity by Gutierrez and Rodriguez, who were formerly employed by the company.

Rodriguez worked as an engineering drafter and Gutierrez was an architectural designer, but neither carried a license for architecture or civil engineering, prosecutors said.

Over a span of seven years, beginning in 2007, the men are accusing of using the seal and signature of one of Palos Verdes Engineering’s licensed engineers, fooling both homeowners and city officials.

The business owner “did not review or approve any of the engineering plans allegedly created and submitted by the defendants and did not authorize Rodriguez and Gutierrez to use his seal,” or perform site inspections, prosecutors said.

The defendants completed projects including new single-family homes, two-story multi-unit duplexes and plans for room additions, according to sheriff’s investigators.

Officials alleged they used software stolen from the company to carry out the fraud.

“Due to the fact Rodriguez and Gutierrez are not licensed professional civil engineers, structures built based on their engineering calculations and specifications may be unsafe and not suitable for habitation,” deputies previously warned.

Gutierrez was being held on $7.2 million bail, and Rodriguez’s bail had been set at $15.6 million. If convicted as charged, Rodriguez faces a maximum possible sentence of 152 years in state prison, while Gutierrez faces up to 105 years.

Both were expected to be arraigned Wednesday.