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He's No Angel 

They once called him a savior who helped people in need. Today, Edwin Parada is accused of taking money from Latinos unfamiliar with real estate laws.

Wednesday, Jun 18 2008
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Working at Casa del Sol and later at California Realty and Investments, two mom-and-pop mortgage brokers in the Mission that have since gone out of business, Parada routinely came in contact with immigrants who had bad credit but wanted to purchase homes. Others contacted him when faced with foreclosure and say they were offered reduced payments in exchange for "temporary" custody of their titles. Still others were approached with real estate investment opportunities that required them to borrow against their equities. A few simply allowed Parada to use their names as a favor to purchase homes, which he made commissions on, but then allegedly walked away from, leaving them with debt and ruined credit. (Parada lost his real estate agent's license in December 2007, not because the Association of Real Estate Brokers became suspicious of his dealings, but for his failure to pay child support.)

But in the three years Parada worked as a real estate sales agent and broker selling homes throughout the Bay Area, he did plenty of damage, says Shirley Hochhausen, who directs the Fair Lending Practice and Referral Service at Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto and is the supervising attorney for one of the plaintiffs.

"He was able to use his language, his credentials, and personal sociopathic charm to gain people's trust," Hochhausen says. "But he couldn't have done it on his own. He was aided and abetted by lenders, title companies, and people who lent their licenses to him. He tapped into their greed with his own."

Many of the alleged victims interviewed by SF Weekly say the true number of people who have lost money is probably much higher than authorities know, but believe some have been dissuaded from coming forward due to fear.

"Many of us have kids and are terrified about what can happen to them if we speak out," says Digna Zamora, a 39-year-old mother of four. Zamora says Parada threatened her after she confronted him about $60,000 she claims he took following the sale of her Hayward home, which had gone into foreclosure. "This person is capable of doing anything, but he has be stopped," she says.

Parada has refused repeated requests for an interview, although not before calling one of the plaintiffs a gold digger and threatening this reporter with a lawsuit. (He also threatened to beat up an SF Weekly photographer who tried to snap his picture during a recent hearing, and then ran from the camera.) Parada's attorney in the civil action suits did not return repeated phone calls.

But attorney Herbert Hayden, who is representing Parada in his federal bankruptcy case, which was filed in February, said that his client got into trouble when the housing market cooled and he became stuck with loans he couldn't repay.

"Edwin's business model was to loan money to people in default or having problems in their homes and to then help those people refinance their home or sell it," Hayden said. "This plan worked fantastically while the markets were up ... so when the market tanked, so did Edwin's business and his ability to pay people back."

During the bankruptcy hearings, Parada has failed to turn over records required of him, saying that most of the transactions were done through verbal agreements.

Parada suddenly changed course in late May, filing a motion to dismiss the bankruptcy proceedings and leaving the country, Hayden said, adding that he himself was frustrated with Parada's lack of cooperation. Parada is now reportedly back in this country and a hearing has been set for July 11 to determine whether he'll be allowed to withdraw his bankruptcy filing.

All the legal back-and-forth has jangled the nerves of Ruiz, Zamora, and other alleged victims not only because of fears Parada may flee the country, but also because all charges against him have been put on hold until his federal bankruptcy proceedings are complete.

"We sit here and wait, not knowing what's going to happen," said Ruiz, who is still living in her San Bruno home despite it now being owned by Parada's brother-in-law. "Does he still have the money? Is he even in the country? Where will I go once the bank forecloses on the home?"

Ricardo Marcelos has hands that always seem busy — working, etching, carving, or painting a craft project, usually figures of peasants in broad-brimmed sombreros or indigenous women carrying baskets. The images are inspired by his work all over Mexico as a onetime journalist and organizer who helped the Zapatistas set up pirate radio stations to broadcast their message to the world.

Sitting in the living room of his two-bedroom home in Bernal Heights, the 45-year-old roofer recounts the story of how he met Parada, a fellow immigrant who seemed to understand the challenges of living in a new land.

"He knocked on my door and said he wanted to talk to me," Marcelos recalls, adding that one of his co-workers had referred Parada to him. "He told me that I needed to buy a bigger house because my kids were getting older and needed separate bedrooms and that he could help me."

Marcelos told Parada that he was happy with his home and couldn't afford a bigger mortgage. But the agent wouldn't listen, repeatedly calling and coming by unannounced at least 15 times, Marcelos says.

Despite his initial protestations, Marcelos was eventually won over by the persuasive Parada. About a month later, Parada called and said that he had found a home in Portola Valley that was perfect for the family, and assured Marcelos that the down payment would be covered through a home equity line of credit, which homeowners often use to do repairs or to consolidate debt. The real estate agent said the mortgage payments would only go up nominally — by $100 at most.

To complete the closing documents on the home, Parada asked Marcelos to meet him at a Starbucks, according to a civil lawsuit Marcelos filed in January. But when Marcelos showed up, Parada was nowhere to be seen. In his place stood Lorenzo Parada, Edwin's brother and a notary public, who put a large stack of documents in front of Marcelos and pointed out places where he should sign, Marcelos recalls. (Despite repeated attempts, SF Weekly was unable to contact Lorenzo Parada for comment.) All of the documents were in English, despite the fact that Marcelos and Edwin Parada had always spoken Spanish to each other.

About The Author

Karina Ioffee

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