Real estate agent admits running massive Ponzi scheme


LOS ANGELES
October 15, 2012 9:00pm


•  Cops a plea to wire fraud

•  Bilked investors looking for big returns


A San Fernando Valley real estate agent and self-described real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty to running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme out of companies based in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to the FBI.

In a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Celia Gallardo, 42, of North Hills, agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud for perpetrating the Ponzi scheme.

In the plea agreement, Ms. Gallardo admitted that she defrauded investors from September 2007 through September 2008 by falsely promising them high rates of return for investing in her purported real estate program, the FBI says, adding that she admitted that instead of investing victims’ money in real estate transactions, she spent the vast majority of the money on house payments, foreign luxury travel, cash withdrawals, and Ponzi payments to earlier investors.

The plea agreement details how one investor lost $500,000 after Gallardo pressured him to invest quickly with claims that her investment program consisted of buying unfinished condominiums for pennies on the dollar in Florida and Tennessee. This victim borrowed money against his home in order to invest with Ms. Gallardo.

But instead of using the money to purchase real estate, Ms. Gallardo used this victim’s money to make Ponzi payments to earlier investors, pay her employees, withdraw cash, pay personal expenses, pay her mortgage, and go on a luxury Mediterranean cruise with close friends and family, the plea agreement says.

Ms. Gallardo admits that her scheme caused losses of at least $2.245 million to dozens of victims, who primarily resided in California and Arizona.

She is to be directed by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson to appear in his court later this month to formally enter the guilty plea. Once she pleads guilty, Ms. Gallardo will face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in federal prison and will likely be ordered to make full restitution to her victims.

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