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FBI Investigates Alleged Scheme at O.C. Thrift

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Contracts awarded by a former Guardian Savings & Loan employee to two companies controlled by her fiance and relatives cost the failed thrift as much as 20 times the amount bid by other companies, an FBI document states.

Such overpayments helped Eva Candelas, her fiance and their families funnel nearly $500,000 out of the institution and into their pockets, the FBI alleges in a sworn statement filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

The FBI has initiated a criminal investigation into possible misapplication of bank funds, Special Agent Michael S. Anderson said Tuesday.

The scheme, which ran for 15 months, also gives another black eye to the West Coast regional office of the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency operating the failed Huntington Beach thrift. The office hired Candelas in December, 1991, but failed to have adequate controls in place to prevent wrongdoing.

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Ironically, federal thrift regulators ousted Guardian’s owner in January, 1991, and seized the Huntington Beach institution five months later largely because of poor record-keeping and lax internal controls.

The RTC regional office in Newport Beach, which manages and liquidates failed California thrifts, has come under fire during its three-year existence for its own faulty record-keeping and other internal quagmires, including sex bias and harassment charges and the hiring of a lawyer who failed to disclose on his employment application that he had two drunk driving incidents.

House Banking Committee members are to meet today in San Diego to hear complaints about the regional office’s management of failed HomeFed Bank in San Diego, one of the nation’s larger thrift collapses.

Both the RTC and Congress are expected to hold public hearings this month involving the Newport Beach office.

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At Guardian Savings, Candelas engaged in a scheme that involved her fiance, her mother, her brother, two uncles and her fiance’s sister, according to a sworn statement by FBI special agent Craig R. Howland. The FBI and the RTC’s office of the inspector general have been investigating the alleged scheme since spring, tracing checks and money transfers through various accounts.

On Thursday, the FBI seized two Mercedes-Benzes and a BMW that Howland said were bought with money pilfered from Guardian. The FBI is still searching for a Ducati motorcycle alleged to have been paid for with S&L; funds.

Candelas’ lawyer, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, would not comment.

No one would answer the door at Candelas’ Garden Grove home, which her brother and one of her uncles also list as their home. One of the five cars in the driveway is a blue Toyota 4-Runner with vanity license plates reading, “EVASTOI.”

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“This scheme is one of the unusual things that happen occasionally,” RTC spokeswoman Felisa Neuringer said. “It happens in the private sector too.”

As manager of foreclosures and bankruptcies, Candelas terminated the services of an outside company that inspected foreclosed properties, monitored tenant actions and boarded up vacated buildings. Instead, she created an in-house inspection team and farmed out work to outside contractors.

She hired her uncle, Eddie Trujillo, as bid coordinator, but their kinship was hidden from Guardian, Howland said. The companies were paid by Mary Demingoy, the sister of Candelas’ fiance. The thrift dismissed Trujillo, Mary Demingoy and Candelas last spring, the RTC said.

Trujillo was hired to solicit bids for construction work and, at Candelas’ direction, to award contracts to the lowest bidders. But few jobs actually went out to bid, and few of those went to the lowest bidder, the FBI said.

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Much of the work went to two companies owned by John Demingoy, who Candelas told the FBI was her “live-in boyfriend.” Her brother, Felix, and another uncle, Jess Candelas, prepared the bids and invoices for John Demingoy’s companies, Howland said.

Of those jobs that were let for bids, the FBI agent said, Demingoy’s prices were outrageously high: $7,700 for work on a Saugus home on which others bid $395 and $410. He was paid $4,600 for work on a Los Angeles home, more than 20 times the low bid of $195.

More than 200 checks were issued to his companies, with fewer than half of them supported by invoices, Howland said. Candelas diverted $488,431 of S&L; funds to herself, her fiance, her brother, her uncle Jess and her mother, Linda Rose Trujillo, the agent stated.


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