Like every legitimate realtor and escrow in the hot Southern California real estate market, Adolfo Schoneke and his sister, Bianca Gonzalez, held open houses and took offers on multiple homes.
The siblings and others operated real estate companies in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach.
But there was a problem: the houses they showed weren’t for sale.
In reality, the homes were a front for a scheme that resulted in the loss of more than $6 million for hundreds of victims, federal prosecutors said this week.
Now Schoneke, Gonzalez and their co-conspirators are facing jail time for this scheme.
Schoneke, 45, of Torrance was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Gonzalez, 39, pleaded guilty in April to her role in wire fraud and is expected to be sentenced in May.
“Playing on the dream of home ownership and seemingly out of reach real estate prices, [Schoneke] figured out a way to ‘sell’ homes he didn’t own and didn’t have to put up for sale,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Prosecutors say Schoneke and others found properties for sale — whether the owners intended to sell or not — and listed them on real estate websites, marketing them as short-sale opportunities. .
“In some cases, homes were marketed through organized open houses by enticing owners or occupants to allow use of their homes,” prosecutors said.
Several offers were accepted for the properties, but each potential buyer was informed that their offer was the only one accepted.
Every “purchase” was delayed, sometimes for years, as buyers were told that sales had to be approved.
“Office workers opened bank accounts to conceal the co-conspirators’ involvement in the fraud,” prosecutors said.
Buyers transferred payments to accounts, in some cases for the assumed full purchase price.
“The co-conspirators ordered office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts, which made the proceeds more difficult to trace,” prosecutors said.
Mario Gonzalez, 51 – no relation to Bianca Gonzalez – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a related case in 2019 and is expected to be sentenced in April.
In total, Schoneke and the others collected nearly $12 million from approximately 750 victims.
Some of the victims were reimbursed, but nearly 400 people ultimately lost over $6 million in the scheme. A restitution hearing for Schoneke is scheduled for December.