SAN DIEGO–The ring leader of a real estate fraud scheme that victimized more than 400 homeowners in San Diego county and other counties, was convicted Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court.
The jury convicted William Hutchings, 62, of 160 felony counts including conspiracy, grand theft, rent skimming and violations of the mortgage foreclosure consultant law. The defendant preyed on mostly non-English speaking, Hispanic homeowners who were in foreclosure, claiming to offer assistance in preventing the victims from losing their homes.
“The conviction should be seen as a warning,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “When individuals who are already facing an extreme financial crisis are preyed upon by the very people from whom they are seeking help, law enforcement will aggressively investigate and pursue prosecution of those individuals.”
Deputy District Attorneys Stephen Robinson and William La Fond methodically laid out the evidence during nearly two months of trial calling more than 70 witnesses and entering more than 400 pieces of evidence. After the verdicts were read, Judge Charles Gill ordered that Hutchings be taken into custody and held without bail pending sentencing on April 27 in San Diego County Superior Court. He faces up to 49 years in state prison.
Much of the evidence produced came after investigators from the District Attorney’s Office and FBI agents served arrest warrants and simultaneous search warrants on May 21, 2008. One of the warrants was served while some of the defendants were in the middle of giving a presentation to more than 50 new prospective victims.
Hutchings conducted a widespread foreclosure rescue scam by which he acquired grant deeds to homes in foreclosure based on untrue or misleading statements that their “land grant program” would prevent homeowners from losing their homes through foreclosure.
Two methods were used for inducing owners of residences in foreclosure to participate in a so-called land grant program. One method required homeowners to pay a one-time fee of up to $10,000 to put their property in a land grant. The second method was a lease back scheme in which homeowners paid the suspects monthly rent and then transferred their property via grant deeds to the defendants for no consideration and then made monthly payments to the defendants, purportedly to rent their homes back from the defendants.
Experts testified at trial that there hasn’t been a legitimate use of the land grant since the conclusion of the Mexican-American war and that the documents filed by Hutchings would not prevent a foreclosure. The evidence at trial showed that that these transactions were illegal and left the victims even worse off than they were before. Almost all of the victims had been evicted from their own homes by the time they testified at trial.
During the investigation, the District Attorney’s Office also took action to freeze the assets and bank accounts of the suspects to preserve several hundred thousand dollars for restitution for the victims. Five other defendants have already pleaded guilty to the scheme. The remaining four defendants are set for trial on May 18.