Last Of Four Defendants In Sale Leaseback, Home Title Theft Racket Was About To Be Sentenced To 15+ Years When He Asks Judge To Withdraw Guilty Pleas; Says He Was Under Duress When Agreeing To Mid-Trial Deal Last Month
In San Diego, California, KGTV Channel 10 reports:
- A 60-year-old man who previously admitted guilt in a massive foreclosure fraud scam asked a judge  to withdraw his guilty pleas.
David Zepeda was about a week into trial last month when he pleaded guilty to numerous counts of conspiracy to commit grand theft, identity theft and recording false documents, Deputy District Attorney Valerie Tanney said.
He is the last of four defendants to go through criminal proceedings in the case.
Prosecutors said the defendants acquired the titles to properties by forging quitclaim deeds or convincing homeowners to transfer the property to them by promising the homeowner they would help avoid foreclosure.
"I never thought they'd steal from me. I thought they were helping," said Escondido resident Benito Cristobal.
Cristobal told Team 10 he went to a large foreclosure seminar and unknowingly signed over the title to his home that he later lost.
Once they had acquired the title, David Zepeda and his brother John would rent out the property, according to prosecutors, who said more than 1,000 victims were discovered in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties, as well as in Clark County Nevada.
They attracted their victims by holding seminars for people hoping to save their homes from foreclosure. Money was diverted from lenders and owners into the defendants' accounts, where the cash was used to support lavish lifestyles, prosecutors said.
Authorities seized $335,000 in uncashed checks, $33,000 in cash, more than $8,000 in silver coins, gold watches and rings, and a Bentley automobile when they searched David Zepeda's home.
He was set to be sentenced Friday to 15 years and eight months in prison, but instead asked for a hearing to convince Superior Court Judge Amalia Meza that he should be allowed to withdraw his pleas.
Defense attorney Tim Brackney said his client, who is being held in county jail in lieu of $5 million bail, felt like he was under "duress" when he pleaded guilty. The defendant suffered a stroke a few years ago and appeared in court on a gurney.
The judge set an Aug. 2 hearing on Zepeda's motion.
The other defendants pleaded guilty to various charges last year.
John Zepeda pleaded guilty to rent skimming, forgery, identity theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. He agreed to pay $6 million restitution.
The state said money has been collected to help pay back the victims, but Cristobal told Team 10 he just wants justice.