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Van Nuys : 2 Arrested, 1 Sought in Alleged Fraud

November 04, 1995|MYRON LEVIN

Los Angeles police Friday arrested two men and were seeking a third accused of defrauding dozens of customers of a Van Nuys home-finding service.

Joseph E. Perez, 33, of Mission Hills and Hugo Beltran, 38, of Glendale, charged with grand theft and other crimes in the operation of Express Homes, were arrested at their homes by detectives from the LAPD's bunco-forgery division.

A third man, identified as Alex Greene--though authorities said they believe that may not be his real name--was still at large late Friday.

In a 16-count misdemeanor complaint filed Wednesday, the Los Angeles city attorney's office accused the men of lying to Express Homes customers about the company's services and refund policies.

In a telephone interview with The Times late Thursday, a man identifying himself as Greene said the firm had conducted itself in a "purely ethical and straightforward manner."

Perez and Beltran were being held in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Express Homes, which operates in the 6800 block of Van Nuys Boulevard and has branch offices in Reseda and Eagle Rock, is one of a slew of Southland rental listing firms to draw bitter complaints from customers and scrutiny from law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

The criminal complaint lists 39 customers who prosecutors said were each cheated out of $125 to $150 apiece during a recent eight-month period.

"I'm confident there's more [victims] out there," Deputy City Atty. Mark Lambert said.

Like several similar firms, Express Homes sells lists of rental properties for $150, and allegedly guarantees refunds if customers can't find a suitable home or find one on their own.

But according to authorities, customers have found that many of the listed units were already rented or nonexistent and were advertised without permission from property owners. Customers also have been denied the promised refunds, prosecutors said.

Perez and Beltran are each charged with three counts of grand theft. All three men were charged with violations of the state Business and Professions Code, which governs the operation of rental listing services. Perez is charged with 13 of the latter counts, Beltran with nine and Greene with four.

The grand theft charges each carry a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail. The other counts are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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