Six charged in real estate fraud scheme

Six people, including a Laguna Beach woman and men from Huntington Beach and Irvine, have been charged by federal prosecutors with participating in a fraudulent real estate scheme.

The defendants are accused of selling bank-owned properties for as much as $45,000 and telling buyers they could be resold for profit within a year. The victims were promised that the properties had "clean" titles, property management services and guaranteed rentals for the first three months, according to the indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on April 18.

The buyers allegedly found that the properties were condemned, were encumbered by tax liens or other burdens, or even did not exist, according to a release from Thom Mrozek, a public affairs officer for the United States Attorney's Office.

The alleged scheme lasted from 2009 to 2010 and resulted in combined losses of at least $4.2 million for more than three dozen victims. The defendants allegedly solicited investors to purchase properties at seminars in several locations across the country, including Irvine and Costa Mesa, as well as online.

Among the six defendants are Sylvia Melkonian, 48, of Laguna Beach, who was arrested Monday by the FBI and has pleaded not guilty in federal court in Santa Ana. Andrew Wardein, 38, of Irvine surrendered to authorities Friday and is set for trial June 12, while Craig Shults, 41, of Huntington Beach has agreed to appear for an arraignment in federal court Wednesday, according to the release.

All defendants are named in at least five counts of wire fraud and face statutory maximum sentences of at least 100 years in federal prison if convicted.

—Michael Miller

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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