Three people have been linked to an alleged mortgage fraud scheme targeting struggling homeowners on the Coast and across Northern California, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Harris announced Monday the arrest of three suspects on suspicion of using six websites to deceive homeowners by falsely advertising a way to “kill” their mortgage debt, including a "We Kill Your Mortgage" site. Those sites, listed below, are now being redirected to a resource page on the California Attorney General’s website.
The felony complaint alleges that Randall Gilbert Heyden, 69, of San Rafael, was one of two people who assisted Ronald Vernon Cupp, 58, of Santa Rosa, in deceiving homeowners. Cupp also was assisted by Angelle Wertz, 38, of Santa Rosa, a public notary who allegedly certified phony legal documents. Cupp allegedly recorded fraudulent documents, which would only delay a foreclosure, not actually satisfy the preexisting mortgage debt.
“Vulnerable California homeowners thought they were working to save their homes but were actually the victims of a fraudulent scheme,” Harris said in a statement. "Today, it's not enough to dismantle the brick-and-mortar aspect of a criminal operation; we need to shut down criminal operations in cyberspace as well."
Cupp, Heyden and Wertz are charged in a 57-count complaint alleging theft, forgery, notary fraud and recording of false documents. They were booked at the Sonoma County Jail on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Cupp and Heyden are being held with bail set at $500,000 and $75,000 respectively. Wertz was released but ordered to appear for arraignment on Friday, Jan. 25.
Through Cupp’s business, North Bay Trust Services, homeowners would often allegedly pay upfront fees of between $1,000 and $10,000 and sign a promissory note or new mortgage for a phony offer to eliminate their mortgage debt, according to Harris. Requiring up-front fees is illegal in California. The suspects would then allegedly record fraudulent documentation purporting to be the attorney for the homeowner’s actual lender and then relinquish the mortgage and record a new deed of trust in favor of North Bay Trust Services. The debt to the original lender was never actually satisfied.
False documents were filed for homes on Francisco Street in El Granada and Grove Street in Half Moon Bay as well as homes in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, according to a complaint filed by the Attorney General's office (attached at right).
The following six websites have had their service suspended pursuant to a court order at the request of the Attorney General Harris’s eCrime Unit:
These pages have been redirected to the California Attorney General’s website, where individuals are able to file an online complaint form if they believe they may have been the victim of the scheme.
The arrests were a result of a joint investigation by the California Department of Justice Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, Marin County District Attorney’s office, Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and Santa Rosa Police Department.
Below are tips for homeowners on how to avoid mortgage fraud schemes:
- Never pay an up-front fee for mortgage-related services. It is against California law and should be reported to the California Department of Justice.
- Be skeptical of third party phone or online solicitations.
- Do not give your personal financial information, such as your bank account number, social security number or the name of your loan servicer, to a solicitor. Your bank or loan servicer already has this information.
For free, trustworthy advice, on mortgage related matters call a HUD approved counselor – (888) 995-4673.
The arrest warrant is attached to the online version of this press release at http://oag.ca.gov/.