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California Woman Arrested in Foreclosure Assistance Scam
May 06, 2011

Tara Denise Bonelli of Santa Cruz, Calif. has been arrested by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation. A federal grand jury in San Jose indicted Bonelli, charging her with 18 counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, and three counts of money laundering. According to the indictment, Bonelli was the founder and owner of Vista Holding Company (Vista Holding) and Vista Funding Inc. (Vista). Vista Holding owned and operated eight different entities: Vista, Independent Financial, Equity Advisors, Bonelli Properties, Lost Dollar Services, Equity Inquiries, Outlook Enterprises and Sovereign Property Management. Vista was a California corporation that claimed to offer a variety of real estate and financial services, including foreclosure assistance, the purchase of distressed properties, and the subdividing and development of properties. In addition, according to the indictment, Bonelli, with her spouse, and under Vista, owned properties in Aptos, Bonny Doon and Scott’s Valley, Calif. that she used as collateral in her scheme to defraud. Bonelli solicited funds from various individuals representing that she would purchase distressed properties for resale and engage in the business of foreclosure assistance, when in fact she knew the money would not be invested, but rather go to finance an extravagant lifestyle. Furthermore, according to the indictment, Bonelli offered the aforementioned properties as collateral for loans. In order to induce victims to send her money, Bonelli misrepresented the assessed value of the property used as collateral as well as her true interest in those properties. Bonelli caused prior deeds of trust on the collateral properties to remain unrecorded, thereby intentionally creating the appearance of less-encumbered collateral property to potential investors. She also utilized individuals as “door knockers” who solicited owners of properties in mortgage distress for so-called “mortgage assistance.” The door knockers, acting at Bonelli’s instruction, had the owners of distressed properties sign blank real estate sales contracts. Bonelli placated complaining investors by falsely telling them that escrows were about to close or that real estate deals were about to result in payments to Vista. The maximum statutory penalty for each count of wire fraud and mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 1341 is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum statutory penalty for each count of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section1957, is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the value of the property involved. The indictment also contains two criminal forfeiture allegations. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
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