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This Time It’s Jail Time : Justice Catches Up to Swift Con Man

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Times Staff Writer

Last October, John Maguire was spared a three-year prison sentence when a San Fernando Superior Court judge put him on probation on two grand-theft charges involving a real estate fraud scheme.

Prosecutors say that Maguire waited only a few hours before hatching a new con game.

Wednesday, another judge sentenced the 28-year-old Los Angeles man to two years and eight months in state prison and fined him $6,710 for violating his probation by operating another fraud scheme--this one involving bankruptcy filings--that he started the same day he was put on probation.

“Mr. Maguire is good at cons, that is how he makes a living,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Barshop told San Fernando Superior Court Judge Fred Rimerman before sentencing. “He couldn’t make it one day without starting to rip somebody off, without looking for a scam to make money.”

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Because he violated probation, Maguire was sentenced for the two grand-theft charges to which he had pleaded guilty in the real estate fraud case. He faced a maximum sentence of three years and eight months for those crimes. He will be eligible for parole in 20 months.

Maguire appeared unaffected as Rimerman read the sentence. In the gallery, his grandmother wept.

Barshop said Maguire’s scams were common, but effective.

In the real estate scheme, Maguire would locate houses and apartments he didn’t own that were being offered for rent, surreptitiously advertise and show the residences and take deposits of $750 to $1,400 from unsuspecting renters, police said.

The renters would show up the next day to move in and find that their rental agreement, signed with a fictitious name, was worthless, their money was gone and they had no place to live, Barshop said.

From February until June of 1983, Maguire defrauded seven people of almost $7,000. He illegally took deposits on apartments in Van Nuys and San Fernando and houses in Chatsworth and Sylmar. He took three deposits on one Sylmar house in five days.

Barshop said three of the victims testified in court that they were left without money to move into another residence and had to live out of their cars until they could save up deposit money.

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“He had taken all the money they had; they had packed their belongings in a U-Haul, gone to the house ready to move in and found they had no place to live,” Barshop said.

Police said they tracked down Maguire from descriptions by victims and information from the phony rental agreements. He was arrested on June 4, 1984, and pleaded guilty to the two counts of grand theft on June 20.

On Oct. 5, Judge Robert O’Brien placed him on four years’ probation and ordered him to pay back his victims.

According to Barshop, Maguire placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times later the same day for a service that offered to help people file bankruptcy to avoid eviction. The ad listed the telephone number of an answering service.

Three people told police that Maguire posed as a lawyer and that they paid him $120 to $180 for the service. But Maguire never filed bankruptcy papers for them, authorities said.

The people complained to police and Maguire was arrested on Nov. 16.

Although the two schemes used by Maguire are often effective, consumers can avoid being taken by them, state officials said.

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Tom McCrady, district manager for the state Department of Real Estate, said renters can check with the Los Angeles County recorder to verify that the person who is renting the residence owns it.

Those who are seeking bankruptcy or other legal advice can verify that their lawyer is licensed to practice in California by checking with the California Bar Assn.

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