Seven people charged in a massive real estate fraud are off the hook after a Fresno County judge ruled the bulk of the case was filed too late.
Judge Jonathan Conklin dismissed more than 100 counts of a 140-count indictment Friday after concluding the Fresno County District Attorney's Office filed the case nearly a month after the four-year statute of limitations had expired.
The decision leaves four of the original 12 defendants facing just 13 charges. One defendant previously reached a plea deal.
"They've had over four years to do the investigation and get the case filed," said attorney David Jones who is representing Isaac Paul Ramirez, one of the remaining defendants.
Neither District Attorney Elizabeth A. Egan nor her office responded to requests for comment Monday.
The original complaint accused 12 defendants of fraudulently obtaining $15.2 million in loans to buy 19 homes in Fresno, Clovis, Sanger and Bakersfield between July 2005 and December 2006.
Conklin's decision Friday reduced the case to 13 charges against Ramirez, Lisa Sanchez, Johnny Marcos Sanchez, and Lorenzo Lopez involving just two Clovis homes. Defendant Lisa Sanchez faces charges of forgery, perjury, identity theft and grand theft while Johnny Sanchez, Ramirez and Lopez face grand theft charges.
At issue was exactly when the statute of limitations expired.
In the summer of 2006, according to court documents, Henry Milton, who owned Worldwide First Mortgage, discovered things were amiss with loans his company had handled and he filed a consumer complaint with the district attorney's office on Oct. 2, 2006. He described "false mortgage loans with false information." But the district attorney's office said it wasn't aware of the issue until a senior investigator interviewed Milton and reviewed the complaint a few weeks later. The district attorney's office filed the case on Oct. 27, 2010.
Conklin ruled the district attorney's office was aware of the fraud no later than Oct. 2, 2006, giving it until Oct. 2, 2010, to file on 127 counts.
The remaining 13 cases involve transactions that happened after October 2006, meaning the statute of limitations had not expired by the time charges were filed.
Attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt, who represents Lisa Sanchez, said with so many counts being thrown out, it could change any potential sentence if his client were convicted. He added that he believes the remaining charges may be defensible.
"If the case has not started before statute of limitation has expired, the court has no jurisdiction over the case," he said.
A trial date has not been set, but the defendants are scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Nov. 15.
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