Homeowner identity theft scam bilked lenders for $3.4M

Scheme allegedly arranged home improvement loans that increased tax bills

(Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with Getty Images)
(Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with Getty Images)

Three people have been arrested in connection with an identity-theft and home-improvement loan scam that prosecutors say bilked lenders out of $3.4 million.

Norbertas Sinica, 37, of Thousand Oaks; Selena Garcia, 27, of Riverside; and Kelliams Chavistad, 42, of Long Beach were accused of orchestrating the widespread scheme, City News Service reported via the Pasadena Star-News.

Prosecutors contend each took part in a scheme that offered homeowners energy-efficient improvements at virtually no cost, but then stole victims’ identities and used them to apply for loans that led to assessments on the victims’ property tax bills.

“This alleged scheme preyed on low-income homeowners, many of whom were elderly and did not speak English,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “They thought they were getting a deal on home improvements, but they ended up living in fear of losing their homes.”

There were 32 homeowner victims, according to the criminal complaint.
Sinica owned Encino-based Eco Technology, which advertised tankless water heaters and other products, prosecutors said. Garcia and Chavistad worked as sales associates for the company.

Sinica was facing 159 felony charges, including burglary, identity theft, financial elder abuse, false personation, forgery and grand theft. Garcia was charged with 102 similar felonies, while Chavistad was charged with 91 felony counts. They were slated to be arraigned Friday.

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Prosecutors said the business made sales calls to homeowners in 2018 and 2019 offering them energy efficiency upgrades at little to no cost.

When its sales staff collected residents’ personal information, the data was used to apply for Property Assessed Clean Energy program loans, which allow homeowners to finance energy improvement projects through an assessment on their property tax bills, according to prosecutors.

The loan proceeds, however, went to Eco Technology, while the assessments were placed on the tax bills of the victim homeowners, prosecutors said.

Most of the targeted homeowners were unaware of the loans until they received inflated property tax bills, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

— Dana Bartholomew