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Real estate couple gets jail time for massive $50M fraud scheme

(Business News) When a well known Realtor and his loan officer wife get rich off of $50 million in falsified loans and wash profits through shell companies, judges aren’t very sympathetic.

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Judge finds couple guilty of fraud

After a long investigation, the U.S. Attorney General’s office filed charges against Eric Elegado and Charmagne Elegado for perpetrating a $50 million fraud scheme, even targeting Charmagne’s parents who lost over $75,000 to the scheme.

Charmagne masterminded the scam, according to prosecutors, and Eric was the frontman and marketing mind, parking their Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris outside of his seminars, teaching others how to get rich like them.

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U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia sentenced the couple to three years and five months in prison each for their role, and sentencing for others involved will take place later this year.

“You were living the American dream until greed entered into the picture,” Judge Battaglia said at sentencing.

How their scheme worked

The operation falsified loan applications for underqualified buyers’ subprime loans, obtained mortgages higher than the sales price of the homes, and funneled profits through dummy corporations, leading to millions in profits. According to the FBI investigation, Charmagne was a loan officer who directed fellow loan officers, as well as agents at her husband’s brokerage, E Real Estate and Loans, to falsify income and employment on loan applications, sometimes scribbling down names of friends’ companies.

Investigators say the scheme wasn’t directed at the general public, the couple took advantage of friends and family as part of the money making scandal.

The couple says they were just trying to help people get homes, prosecutors said it was a money grab in a tight-knit community where they took advantage of the trust they had earned.

Eric’s real estate company made roughly $3.5 million on 104 fraudulent deals, and the FBI says that the loss to lenders is roughly $10.5 million.

The couple apologized in court

The Elegado’s lawyers said that the couple’s criminal conduct was brief, only between December 2005 and February 2007, and was completely uncharacteristic of the two, and that Charmagne was pressured by the culture at New Century Mortgage, where no-document loans were common, and say Charmagne can’t be singled out for an entire subprime industry which “foster[ed] this type of behavior.”

Prosecutors called this argument a distraction and pointed out that the Elegados went to great lengths to corrupt the system for years.

Both expressed to the judge that they were sorry, and Eric offered to do all of the jail time so his wife could stay at home with their young son. The plea was rejected by the judge for this crime which left many homeowners in a bad credit position, many even having to move out of the state as a result. Dozens of their family and friends present cried when Judge Battaglia sentenced both to prison.

What now for the Elegados?

Eric continues to work as a real estate agent, despite his poor reputation, and Charmagne is earning a living as an independent contractor and a part time child care worker at her church.

They live with family in Escondido and are reportedly broke. There is no word as to their ability to pay the penalties. At a restitution hearing on May 27, prosecutors plan to ask the couple to repay the $10.5 million loss the lenders saw.

Four other employees charged in the case are set to be sentenced today, and others will be sentenced later this year.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Attorney General’s office has been modified.

Tara Steele is the News Director at The American Genius, covering entrepreneur, real estate, technology news and everything in between. If you'd like to reach Tara with a question, comment, press release or hot news tip, simply click the link below.

Business News

This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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Business News

Ford adopts flexible working from home schedule for over 30k employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford Motor Co. is allowing employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic winds down. Is this the beginning of a trend for auto companies?

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Woman in car working on engineering now allowed a flexible schedule for working from home.

The pandemic has greatly transformed our lives. For the most part, learning is being conducted online. At one point, interacting with others was pretty much non-existent. Working in the office shifted significantly to working remotely, and it seems like working from home might not go away anytime soon.

As things slowly get back to a new “normal”, will things change again? Well, one thing is sure. Working from home will be a permanent thing for some people as more companies opt to continue letting people work remotely.

And, the most recent company on the list to do this is Ford Motor Co. Even after the pandemic winds down, Ford will allow more than 30,000 employees already working from home to continue doing so.

Last week, the automaker giant announced its “flexible hybrid model” schedule to its staff. The new schedule is set to start in the summer, and employees can choose to work remotely and come into the office for tasks that require face-to-face collaborations, such as meetings and group projects.

How much time an employee spends in the office will depend on their responsibilities, and flexible remote hours will need to be approved by an employee’s manager.

“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent — you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” David Dubensky, chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, told the Washington Post. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”

Ford’s decision to implement a remote-office work model has to do in part with an employee survey conducted in June 2020. Results from the survey showed that 95% of employees wanted a hybrid schedule. Some employees even reported feeling more productive when working from home.

Ford is the first auto company to allow employees to work from home indefinitely, but it might not be the only one. According to the Post, Toyota and General Motors are looking at flexible options of their own.

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Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

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