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RISMEDIA, July 3, 2007—(MCT)—A Murrieta-based real estate investment company and a broker that sparked a rash of lawsuits and a criminal investigation have agreed to forfeit their real estate licenses, according to a document filed with the California Department of Real Estate.

Stonewood Consulting and Hendrix Moreno Montecastro waived their right to contest a long litany of violations that the department alleged in a May 23 complaint. They did not admit the validity of the allegations, which nonetheless are stated as the reason for the disciplinary action. Department of Real Estate spokesman Tom Pool said the license revocations will become effective July 9.

William H. Sauls, the lawyer representing Stonewood Consulting and Montecastro, was unavailable for comment Thursday. He has repeatedly refused to be interviewed regarding the case.

Montecastro and Stonewood Consulting are accused of engaging in a scheme in which inflated appraisals were used to obtain mortgages larger than the price that the sellers actually received for their properties.

Stonewood Consulting took as commissions the difference between the contract sales price that was reported to the lenders and the price paid to the sellers, according to the complaint. The department said an audit of 10 properties conducted as part of its investigation showed that Stonewood Consulting collected commissions ranging from $75,000 to $115,000 per house, for a total of $969,158.

In civil and federal lawsuits, Stonewood Consulting investors claim they were induced to buy multiple houses with inflated mortgages with the aim of raising funds they thought would be invested for them with a guarantee of big returns.

Richard Ackerman, a lawyer for many of the plaintiffs, says that investors in California and several other states were defrauded in a scam that involved the purchase and refinancing of hundreds of houses, the majority concentrated in southwest Riverside County, particularly Murrieta and Temecula.

Ackerman said investors were assured the mortgages on their houses would be paid by those they entrusted to invest the excess mortgage funds and through other money they raised by drawing on credit cards and retirement accounts. Instead, late last year, the mortgage payments stopped and many of the houses have gone into default and foreclosure, he said.

Other alleged violations cited by the Department of Real Estate included failure to maintain mortgage trust accounts, illegal disbursement of money from property management accounts, illegal disbursement of money from property management accounts, incomplete and inaccurate loan-disclosure statements, failure to disclose loan origination fees and telling sellers that buyers had deposited earnest money that didn’t exist.

Ackerman said he considers Stonewood Consulting and Montecastro’s decision not to contest the allegations “an implied admission on their part that they did wrong. Why would you surrender your professional license in the face of serious charges unless you thought there was some merit to the charges?”

Anna Richter, 39, a Rialto resident and Stonewood Consulting investor who has been organizing rallies to urge authorities to take enforcement action, said, “I am happy their license will be revoked. However, I am extremely disappointed in the bureaucratic slowness of justice. Someone should be arrested by now.”

The Riverside County district attorney’s office has said it is investigating Stonewood Consulting for possible crimes involving mortgage fraud.

Copyright © 2007, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.