LOS ANGELES — A man pleaded guilty Monday to bank and mail fraud in connection with a scheme to swindle $1 million from an Irvine savings institution, a plan foiled by a suspicious Beverly Hills housekeeper, a federal prosecutor said.
Paul Lenin Proano Jr. of Los Angeles pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to what he described as his "part" in the plan to seek a $1-million mortgage loan from Far West Savings & Loan of Irvine. Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas J. Umberg said the mortgage was to be secured by a $2.6-million Beverly Hills mansion whose owner knew nothing of the swindle.
Ultimately, Umberg said, the sharp eye of the owner's housekeeper led investigators to conduct a reverse sting operation. Proano was arrested Nov. 30 when FBI agent Christopher Headrick, posing as a bank agent, handed him a check.
Proano said Monday that he entered a plea of guilty to bank and mail fraud with his family in mind. "I've been through so much already," he said after the court hearing. Speaking of his family, he added: "I don't want any problems. I'm just making sure they're safe." Proano is married and has a 5-year-old son.
The government has charged that Proano acted with unknown accomplices. Umberg said Proano has not cooperated with the investigation and has not named other people who may have been involved in the scheme.
According to the government, Proano first posed as an interested buyer of a home owned by Walstein C. Findlay Jr., who was interested in selling. Findlay had allowed several appraisers, purportedly working for the buyer, Proano, to enter and value the house.
Armed with those appraisals, Umberg said, Proano then approached the savings and loan, posing as Findlay's agent. He filed loan application documents, to which he signed a false name, then submitted the package to a mortgage broker working with Far West, according to Umberg.
As part of the scheme, Umberg said, potential lenders were told to address all correspondence and direct all inquiries to Proano.
But one letter apparently was inadvertently sent directly to Findlay's Beverly Hills address. His housekeeper, who was not identified, opened the letter and referred it to Findlay's lawyers, who notified federal authorities, Umberg said.
Proano has no prior criminal record and has been steadily employed, according to his lawyer, Chet Brown.
Brown said he decided against a trial in the case because the evidence against his client was "too strong."
"We just felt that it was not in his best interest to involve other people in his problems," Brown said.
Proano faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.