Two Southland men face charges of operating a $1.3 million real estate fraud scheme that targeted Latino investors, many of whom were elderly, authorities said today.
Edwin Salazar, 34, of Downey and 41-year-old Michael Zuniga of Fullerton are charged with multiple counts of grand theft, elder abuse, burglary and conspiracy in connection with 18 victims, according to state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
"The defendants defrauded investors with promises of guaranteed returns and even convinced some victims to refinance their own homes in order to participate the scheme,'' Harris said in a statement.
"What victims thought was a resourceful real estate investment only brought them losses and heartbreak.''
Prosecutors allege that between January 2007 and December 2008, Salazar and Zuniga offered ``risk-free'' investments to victims based on what they promised was the strong track record of their company -- Omega Investment Group.
Victims were guaranteed returns of 15 percent and were often convinced to refinance their homes so they could invest in Omega's real estate plans, officials allege.
But in classic Ponzi fashion, new investments were used to pay off previous investors, and almost $700,000 of victim funds were diverted to the defendants' personal use, Harris said.
Salazar and Zuniga both apparently worked as insurance agents, officials said.
"These agents conspired to rip-off trusting members of their own community," Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said. "Preying on senior citizens for financial gain is deplorable and it will not go unpunished.''