Fraud squad: Sacramento County DA unit prosecutes real estate crimes—slowly

Real estate fraud costs local residents $12.7 million

Real estate fraud cost local residents at least $12.7 million last fiscal year, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, which has yet to successfully prosecute anyone for these crimes.

That was the gist from a report that county supervisors filed away on Tuesday, which conveys how complex and time-consuming real estate fraud investigations can be, and offered a peek into the unit that pursues them. The report comes from the DA office’s Real Estate Fraud Unit, which had 31 active cases at the time of its September 1 letter to the county.

According to the report, the unit’s 18th, the DA’s office has been responsible for tracking real estate fraud in the county since July 2010. Its unit employs seven staff members, who processed 141 inquiries and calls to its hotline during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The fraud unit opened 60 investigations, but closed nearly half due to insufficient evidence.

There were also 22 prosecutions carried over from the previous year, three of which did result in convictions for four defendants.

One of the convicted defendants was Lonnie Schmidt, whom prosecutors say convinced desperate homeowners facing foreclosure to sign up for a fake mortgage relief program. Instead, Schmidt gained control over his victims’ properties, using them as collateral for personal loans or attempting to sell them himself.

Schmidt’s crimes took course between 2009 and 2013, resulting in 40,000 pages of discovery and a five-month trial, the report states. After which, he was sentenced to 30 years in state prison.