Statement: “We’ve doubled our caseload in real estate fraud in the last year,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said during a public safety panel June 22.
Analysis: Dumanis’ office filed 39 real estate fraud cases in the fiscal year ending 2009, compared with 20 cases filed the previous year.
The caseload is one shy of doubling between those years, which are the most recently available statistics.
And the number of defendants charged as part of those cases nearly tripled to 99 defendants in the year ending in 2009, from 37 the previous year.
Real estate fraud covers a spectrum of housing- and land-related crimes, from forging documents, to artificially inflating property values, to swindling distressed homeowners out of their homes. The DA’s Office often brings felony forgery, identity theft and grand theft charges in the cases.
The real estate division didn’t hire more prosecutors between the two years, but Michael Groch, economic crimes chief for the DA’s Office, said he has borrowed prosecutors from other teams to handle the increased cases.
Groch said more recent cases have tended to deal with foreclosure-rescue scams, where there are more defendants and more victims than the boom-time property-flipping schemes.
Like this case, in which William Hutchings and several other defendants tricked Latino homeowners in foreclosure into deeding their homes over to Hutchings to keep the banks from confiscating them.
Hutchings was convicted this year after a lengthy trial and sentenced to 46 years in state prison, Groch said. Two other defendants pleaded guilty, and the last two are in jury trial currently.
Since the caseload doubled between 2008 and 2009, we’re calling Dumanis’ statement true.
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— KELLY BENNETT