Fremont

Woman faces prison for role in fraud

A 47-year-old Fremont woman was arrested Wednesday for conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with a fraudulent short-sale home scheme, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Minerva Sanchez was arraigned Wednesday in a San Jose federal district court and pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted of the charges, Sanchez faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

In March 2010, Sanchez, a licensed real estate agent, represented Agustin Simon, 52, of Gustine, in the sale of his home in Patterson. Sanchez recommended that he do a "short-sale" of his home using her son as a straw buyer, according to court documents.

Simon submitted fraudulent short-sale applications that were approved.

Sanchez and Simon made false statements about Simon's assets and ownership of other real estate. Sanchez wrote a "hardship letter" for Simon to include with the short-sale application that misrepresented his inability to make his monthly mortgage payments, court documents show.

With Sanchez's knowledge, Simon provided her son with $355,000, the purchase price of the home. In addition to her commission as the listing agent, Sanchez received 75 percent of the commission paid to her son's real estate agent.

As a result of her conduct, Tri Counties Bank suffered a loss of $247,000 and Freddie Mac lost $107,348, according to court documents.

Last June, Simon pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with the scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 6.

-- Kristin J. Bender, Staff

SAN LEANDRO

1,500 marijuana plants seized

Two grow houses containing more than 1,500 illegally cultivated marijuana plants were discovered Tuesday in San Leandro after police responded to a call about a power line sparking on a residential street.

The incident occurred in the 15000 block of Endicott Street shortly after midnight Tuesday. Further investigation determined that someone had tampered with the power supply in order to power the illegal grow house, which San Leandro police described as larger than usual.

The investigation also revealed a second marijuana grow house in the 14900 block of Crosty Street, leading to the arrest of Sonny Chen, 49, of San Leandro. Chen has been charged with illegal cultivation of marijuana, sale and possession of marijuana and utility theft.

"Illegal marijuana grow operations are a major fire hazard, and anyone who sees suspicious activity at an abandoned home should immediately report it," said Lt. Randall Brandt of the San Leandro Police Department.

-- Karina Ioffee, Staff

SAN LEANDRO

Police release photo of armed bank robber

Police on Wednesday released a photo of an armed man who they say robbed a Bank of America branch earlier this month, police said.

About 9 a.m. on Jan. 14, police responded to the bank at 1925 Marina Blvd., after a man with a handgun entered the bank, demanded money and then took off on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash, Lt. Randy Brandt said.

Police are asking the public for help locating the man, who should be considered armed and dangerous, Brandt said.

The suspect is described as a black man about 25 years old, 6 feet tall, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. He was armed with a handgun and a getaway car was not seen.

Anyone with information should call police at 510-577-3230 or the anonymous tip line at 510-577-3278.

-- Natalie Neysa Alund and Kristin Bender, Staff

Oakland

Woman pleads guilty to importing wildlife

An Oakland woman faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 after pleading guilty last week to illegally bringing wildlife into the United States, including shark fins, sea horses, fish and other exotic wildlife that she would then resell at her business, American Ocean Trading, based in San Francisco.

According to an indictment by the U.S. Attorney General's Office, Patty Chen, 67, allegedly violated The Lacey Act, a century-old conservation law aimed at protecting wildlife and preventing the importation or spread of potentially dangerous non-native species.

Prosecutors also alleged that Chen lied on her customs declaration forms when entering Miami-Dade International Airport in 2009 after a trip to Ecuador, where she obtained the fish and other marine wildlife, valued at $30,000.

Last Friday, Chen admitted lying on forms and violating the federal environmental protection law. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 9.

The case was jointly investigated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California.

-- Karina Ioffee, Staff