A suspect was arrested for allegedly running a Los Angeles-based loan modification scheme that resulted in victims losing more than $60,000, and two of them losing their homes, the Los Angeles Police Department announced at a news conference Monday.
Jose Angel Bernal, 49, was arrested on suspicion of felony grand theft around 1 a.m. on Dec. 5. Detectives said Bernal, and his alleged assistant Eduardo Linares, targeted Spanish-speaking homeowners who were in the midst of financial hardship and desperate to save their homes from foreclosure. The victims were charged excessive up-front fees in exchange for assistance with negotiating a home loan modification.
"When the victims are close to losing their homes they often place trust in people who sell them dreams and hope, but ultimately steal their money," Detective Manuel Segura, of LAPD'S Commercial Crimes Division, said.
Bernal, who worked out of two offices on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, advertised his loan services on AM radio station KBLA 1580. Segura said Linares, who was identified as a person of interest and is being sought by LAPD, assisted Bernal with paperwork, obtaining documentation from the victims, collecting fees and promising to communicate with the lenders on behalf of the homeowners. Instead, no money was ever paid to the lenders and no services were rendered, police said.
Alberto Martinez told KTLA he lost his home after falling prey to Bernal and Linares.
"It's been very, very difficult with four kids," Martinez said through a translator. "When our house went to auction and we lost our home, we were very stressed out and devastated."
Detectives said it's unclear if Martinez or any of the victims will be able to recoup any of their financial losses.
Police said Bernal's offices, Home Preservation Services, Inc. and Cal First Mortgage Bankers, opened on Wilshire Boulevard in October 2013, but are no longer in business. Bernal and Linares did not have valid California real estate licenses, and police said the charging of advanced loan fees has been illegal since October 2009.
Detectives believe there are additional victims in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Police said Bernal, who has bailed out of jail since being arrested, is not cooperating with detectives and has not given any identifying information about Linares.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of this loan modification scam, or with information about Linares, is encouraged to call LAPD Commercial Crimes Division Det. Manuel Segura at 213-486-6630.