Editor's note, added January 9, 2014:
Santa Rosa attorney Angelle Wertz has been cleared of criminal charges in an ongoing North Bay mortgage fraud case. Wertz was charged last year with providing illegal notary services for two co-defendants accused of bilking customers of their debt-elimination business. But prosecutors in August dropped all charges against Wertz, finding there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The case against the two co-defendants is continuing toward trial.
Two Santa Rosa residents and a Marin County man are accused of stealing from struggling homeowners in Northern California by promising to get rid of their mortgage debt for a fee, an alleged fraud that could cost some victims their homes.
Investigators said Ronald Cupp, 58, of Santa Rosa convinced at least 11 homeowners, including his elderly mother, that he could eliminate their mortgage debt if they paid him upfront fees of $1,000 to $10,000.
Cupp was assisted by Randall Heyden, 69, a licensed real estate broker from San Rafael, as well as Santa Rosa public notary Angelle Wertz, 38, the state Attorney General's Office said Monday.
Cupp, Heyden and Wertz were named in a 57-count arrest warrant filed Thursday alleging theft, forgery, notary fraud and recording of false documents involving homeowners in Sonoma, Marin and other counties between January 2011 and March 2012.
They were arrested Thursday and booked into the Sonoma County Jail where Cupp and Hayden remained Monday in lieu of $500,000 and $75,000 bail, respectively. Wertz, suspected of notarizing fake documents, has been released.
The case began in Marin County, where the county recorder's office alerted authorities that deeds for properties in San Rafael and Corte Madera appeared to be fake.
That led investigators to Cupp, who operated North Bay Trust Services out of a Rohnert Park storefront and ran six websites advertising his business, officials said. A banner that read "Mortgage Problems? WeKillYourMortgage.com" hung above the Commerce Boulevard store.
The six websites have been shut and their web addresses seized, under court order, by the Attorney General's Office with a warning about the websites being under criminal investigation.
Using legal jargon, Cupp created documents that challenged mortgage lenders to prove they held title to the properties, Marin County District Attorney's Office investigators said.
Cupp, who also ran Cupp Bros. Construction, apparently shares the extremist anti-government beliefs of so-called "Sovereign Citizens," according to a District Attorney's Office memo. The group's members are classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists and claim to not be subject to U.S. laws.
In one case, Cupp sent Wells Fargo Bank a trove of "Sovereign Citizens" documents, notarized by Wertz, saying a client's mortgage debt was invalid if the bank didn't respond as he instructed, according to the memo.
Cupp and Hayden essentially flooded lenders with fake documents, including new deeds and files that claimed mortgages were paid off, investigators said.
While Cupp and Hayden collected $25,000 to $35,000 in fees from the 11 homeowners, the property owners in many cases did not pay mortgages. Some owners are facing foreclosure or are in jeopardy of it.
Two homeowners in San Mateo are being sued by their lenders, and at least four lenders hired attorneys to defend their titles to properties, investigators said.
The scheme cost financial institutions at least $400,000 through missed payments, delayed foreclosures and the costs of investigating the matters.