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Ponzi scheme operator pleads guilty

Former Santa Clarita Valley businesswoman admits to real estate fraud

Posted: October 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The former owner of a local investment company raided four years ago has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges that she ran a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme out of companies based in the Santa Clarita Valley, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

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

In the plea agreement, Gallardo admitted she defrauded investors between September 2007 and September 2008 by falsely promising them high rates of return for investing in her purported real estate program.

On Sept. 4, 2008, detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Commercial Crimes Bureau responded to concerns of investors — many of them senior citizens — who complained of losing their life savings.

Detectives simultaneously raided two of Gallardo’s investment businesses following a two-month investigation.

During the raids, more than two dozen detectives executed search warrants at the ground floor offices of Gold Credit Investments on Valencia Boulevard between Citrus Street and Magic Mountain Parkway and on the Wayman Street home where Gallardo reportedly lived at the time.

In her plea agreement with prosecutors, Gallardo admitted to the district attorney that instead of investing victims’ money in real estate transactions, she spent the 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.

The victim borrowed money against his home in order to invest with Gallardo.

Gallardo admitted that her scheme caused losses of nearly $2.3 million to dozens of victims in California and Arizona.

Gallardo is expected to enter a guilty plea in court later this month. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison and will likely have to pay her victims back, prosecutors said.




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