Sheriff’s deputies arrested five men Wednesday who ran a South Los Angeles rental agency for allegedly bilking hundreds of people who paid as much as $800 each to the agency to help them find low-cost apartments.
Deputies arrested Jose Gonzales, 31, and Edward Peteja, 26, both of Redondo Beach; Leon Mooers, 27, of Norwalk; Disan Aramburo, 19, of Walnut Park; and Everado Miranda, 18, of Downey. Authorities said they will seek charges of grand theft, fraud and conspiracy.
The men were being held Wednesday at the Sheriff’s Firestone substation. Arraignment will be held later this week. Authorities said they would seek bail of about $100,000 each.
The men operated the El Centro Credit Network at the 1800 block of Florence Avenue for approximately six months, from January to July 27, 1990, authorities said. The company ran advertisements in La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, promising to help clients find low-cost housing for a fee that ranged from $100 to $800. Instead, authorities say, the agency provided them with lists of non-existent addresses and apartments that were already occupied.
Deputies said they believe the company, which had since moved to Hawthorne and was operating for the past several weeks as the South Bay Credit Network, has been in existence for several years, and was previously active in the El Monte, Walnut Park, Downey, Montebello, Paramount and Lakewood.
“It’s been a scam that’s been operating for years and years and years,” said Deputy Phillip Martinez, who worked on the two-month investigation. “They’ve moved around.”
The company came to the attention of detectives at the Firestone sheriff’s substation when they received a number of similar fraud complaints. They have identified more than 50 victims in that area alone and believe the number of people cheated may be as high as 300, Martinez said.
The El Centro Credit Network preyed mainly on Latinos, many of whom are illegal immigrants and reluctant to come forward, authorities said. That, combined with the fact that victims were bilked out of fairly small sums of money, accounts for the long period of time the scheme was able to operate, authorities said. Deputies believe the alleged scheme was able to operate for such a long period of time because of the victims’ reluctance to come forward and the relatively small amounts of money involved.