Police fight real estate fraud

GLENDALE — Glendale police detectives have begun using a $150,000 grant to investigate real estate fraud as more scam artists take advantage of homeowners looking to refinance their mortgages, officials said.

The funding has been used to look into tips that may result in lengthy real estate fraud investigations, Lt. Susan Hayn said. Details about the cases were not disclosed because they are under investigation.

The department's ability to better investigate those tips was the result of receiving a grant this year from the Los Angeles County Real Estate Fraud Prosecution program. The money will be used to pay for the overtime and additional training needed to investigate the cases.

"This just supplements us to be able to go out and investigate for the victims in the community the way it needs to be investigated," Hayn said.

Two detectives have been permanently assigned to investigate only real estate fraud cases as a result of the funding, Hayn said.

Before receiving the grant, the unit was working with a $30,000 budget, Hayn said.

"Based on the declining market and the continuing of the declining market with people losing homes, it's becoming a huge market for fraud, and of course it has become a huge problem in our community," she said.

More scam artists are taking advantage of homeowners who are trying to refinance their mortgages or who are losing their homes, Hayn said.

"It's very easy to do because you have a great market, and they are stealing substantial amounts of money from these people," she said.

Investigating real estate fraud can be time consuming. Detectives must often work long hours to track suspects and information, Hayn said.

The unit's large caseload was one critical component for the large grant amount, said county Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Baker of the Real Estate Fraud Section.

So far this year, Baker said his section is working on 50 cases with about seven prosecutors. The cases logged 134 defendants, which he said is common for real estate fraud.

Because real estate fraud cases are complicated, he said prosecutors rely heavily on a police department's investigative skills and ability to organize evidence clearly.

The number of real estate fraud cases throughout the county is overwhelming, Baker said.

"Glendale certainly has its fair share of it," he said.

Det. Robert Zaun investigated one particular real estate fraud case for three years.

A Glendale homeowner contacted police after his home was sold by scam artists without his knowledge. But an investigation into the home sale began to unravel a more complicated scheme.

Detectives discovered that a pair of scam artists had represented themselves as real estate facilitators and recruited fraudulent mortgage brokers and notaries to submit fake loan applications and appraisals to lenders for six properties, police said.

The pair was eventually convicted of the scheme and sentenced to more than 25 years in prison.

"Mortgage fraud is huge," Hayn said. "It's up everywhere and in all states."

Similar scams are commonly seen throughout the real estate industry, said Realtor Armik Avedisian, who is incoming president of the Glendale Realtors Assn., but who spoke on his own behalf.

"We all do see it, especially in the foreclosure sales," he said.

If a foreclosure even has a hint of something not being right, Avedisian said he warns his clients against the purchase.

"Stay away," he said. "Don't even touch those properties."

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