Hendrix Montecastro, 40, of Maryland, was convicted on March 25 of 304 counts in a complex real estate fraud case that prosecutors say cost the victims $142 million in total. According to Riverside County Chief Deputy District Attorney Vicki Hightower, the jury convicted Montecastro on charges that included grand theft, destruction of evidence and felony fraud against 26 of 27 named victims — with asset losses totaling $3.6 millions.
He faces a prison sentence of more than 100 years.
Helen Pedrino, 61, of Murrieta – the mother of Hendrix Montecastro, was found guilty of 54 felonies based on her recruitment of five victim investors. When she is sentenced, she could spend up to 30 years in prison.
James Benjamin Duncan, who orchestrated the fraud, testified against Montecastro and Pedrino after making a deal with prosecutors. He is going to be sentenced for his crimes this month, along with Maurice McLeod, who also played a prominent role. A third man, Christopher Oetting, hanged himself on February 16, 2010 in his home, after admitting he to charges of conspiracy, money laundering and multiple counts of filing fraudulent tax returns.
The remaining defendants: Charlie Choi, Cindy Kelly and Thuan Nhan Du pleaded guilty to selling securities without a license and received probation.
As with all Ponzi schemes, this one worked well because friends and relatives convinced each other that the defendants’ “real estate investment” program was profitable. Good judgment was suspended and people refinanced their homes to draw out equity, cashed in their retirement plants and charged up their credit cards. Almost all of the victims were completely ruined as no monies have been recovered.
In a nutshell, the real estate investment fraud worked by the use of two companies set up by the defendants: Jovane Investments and Stonewood Consulting. The investors placed their money into Jovane, a shell company. The investors paid the seller the asking price or close to it and Jovane Investments funded the loans, but at 20-25% more than the appraised value.
The investors were unaware that Stonewood would locate the properties, also arrange financing and do so also at inflated values.
To understand the depth of this real estate fraud, refer to the article published in the Press Enterprise.
Part of Hendrix Montecastro’s defense was that he was a victim of James Benjamin Duncan too, but Prosecutor Hightower showed that Montecastro was anything but poor, spending $500,000 just before the Ponzi scheme collapsed on a non-profit called the Biocybernaut Institute.