SAN JOSE -- A 52-year-old real estate agent was sentenced to jail for running a confidence scam in which she bilked landlords for rent-free three-month stints at pricey properties throughout the South Bay, prosecutors said.

Rebecca Violette would present herself to landlords as a well-dressed, affluent real estate agent in immediate need of a place to live, said Deputy District Attorney Katharina Wells of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. She would lie about her income and past evictions and convince them to lease her a home on the spot, without doing a background check. Then she would pay for first and last month's rent with a bad check, Wells said.

"Before the unsuspecting landlord deposited the check, Violette moved into the property," Wells said in a news release. "At that point, the only recourse for the landlord was an 'unlawful detainer' action that typically takes 90 days from filing to eviction."

There were a total of 14 such unlawful detainers filed in Santa Clara County, Wells said, with Violette living at properties in Campbell, Los Gatos, Mountain View and San Jose.

Wells described the properties as "single-family homes in the $3,000-a-month range."

"We are all susceptible to a fine-tuned business approach, even if it's based on falsehoods," said Wells. "In this case, the defendant scammed several real estate professionals."


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Wells advised landlords to always check references before renting to anyone.

Investigators said that all told, Violette scammed landlords for tens of thousands of dollars in rent.

Violette was convicted on Jan. 22 of grand theft, passing bad checks and elder financial fraud, with the latter charge related to scamming a property owner in his late 70s whose main source of income was rent.

At her sentencing Wednesday, Judge Hector Ramon gave Violette two years and eight months of jail time, followed by 16 months of supervised release.

Property owners can research whether a prospective tenant had a previous unlawful detainer action at www.sccaseinfo.org. The district attorney's office said rental fraud is a growing problem given the current tight housing market.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.