NEVADA CITY (CBS13) — A man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for leading a Nevada City-based “mortgage elimination” scheme that ran between April 2010 and November 2011 and claimed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
James Christopher Castle, 57, formerly of Petaluma in Sonoma County, was found guilty last August of 35 counts of bank fraud.READ MORE: WATCH: Bull Bucks Off Rider, Jumps Into Stands At Redding Rodeo; 5 People Hurt
He schemed to fraudulently eliminate victims’ home mortgages and then profit on subsequent home sales, U.S, Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said. Castle enrolled homeowners as members of a Nevada City-based church that went by the names of Shon-te-East-a, Walks With Spirit or Pillow Foundation, which was its successor entity, and promised them foreclosure protection against their banks.
Castle and his co-conspirators would recruit homeowners, create fraudulent documents and sell the homes, prosecutors said. Once a home was sold, a fake deed of trust was created to give the impression the home was refinanced. Shon-te-East-a served as a new lender, and in turn, the homeowner would owe no money to the new lender.
Thirty-seven homes were sold through Shon-te-East-a and fraudulent documents were in place for additional sales of approximately 100 homes, but those sales never happened as the scheme unraveled.READ MORE: Quail Fire In Vacaville Now 90% Contained
Three of those co-conspirators — Remus A. Kirkpatrick, 65; Michael Romano, 75, of Benicia; and Laura Pezzi of Roseville — pleaded guilty back in 2017 to related charges and all got prison time.
Two others from San Diego — Trisha Trites and Todd Smith — both pleaded guilty in September 2015. Trites will be sentenced in June while Smith was previously sentenced to two years in prison. And two others — George B. Larsen, 60, of San Rafael, and Larry Todt, 70, of Malibu — each got several years in prison after being convicted in December 2017.
One other co-defendant, John Michael DiChiara, died in August 2019 while awaiting trial.MORE NEWS: 'Their Choice And Not Ours': Elk Grove Family Speaks Out After Sudden Turn In Teen's Murder Case
Prosecutors said Castle had fled to New Zealand and then Australia in 2011 once the scheme fell apart. He was extradited back to the U.S. in May 2020.