Three of 14 defendants accused in a $22 million fraud scheme based on schools in Riverside and Los Angeles where individuals in need of training were enrolled, but rarely if ever attended, are scheduled to be arraigned next week.
Manuel Alberto Dimas, 40, of Costa Mesa, Juan Francisco Leal Gonzalez, 52, of Diamond Bar, and Sarvia Ofelia Lopez, 53, of San Diego are each charged with insurance fraud and receiving commissions for recruitment of parties to a fraudulent enterprise.
All are free on their own recognizance. Lopez is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, Gonzalez on Tuesday and Dimas on Wednesday.
Their co-defendants are Karla Mariela Arevalo, 29, of Fullerton, Estrella Juana Calix, 39, of Sylmar, Mariela Cardenas, 36, of Moreno Valley, Sandy Lissette Flores, 43, of Lakewood, Oswaldo Forero, 65, of Irvine, Jose Luis Gamas, 55, of Pomona, Mauricio Giovanni Hernandez, 46, of Sherman Oaks, Edward Holguin, 36, of Norwalk, Jose Nicasio Lara, 58, of South Gate, Araceli Soto, 38, of Ontario, and Melbe Zepeda, 41, of Bellflower.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Forero and Zepeda were the principals behind the alleged fraud. They’re each charged with conspiracy and multiple counts of misrepresentation of facts to receive insurance benefits.
The pair are slated to be arraigned in March. The remaining nine defendants are scheduled to be arraigned in December.
Prosecutors allege that Forero and Zepeda established two bogus schools — Ryon College in Riverside and Sutech School in Los Angeles — that, on paper, were designed to provide educational opportunities, through classroom and hands-on training, for individuals eligible to receive Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits, covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
Individual vouchers from the program ranged from $6,000 to $10,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors said the vouchers were primarily intended for injured workers with disabilities, seeking to return to the job market with fresh skills adaptable to new careers.
Other than Forero and Zepeda, most of the defendants were “cappers,” tasked with recruiting people to sign onto the program, “even if the students didn’t have the requisite educational background — a high school diploma or equivalent,” according to a statement from the District Attorney’s Office.
“The priority of the defendants was to make money using various tactics such as over-billing for laptops and tools, collecting lucrative vouchers for students who never or rarely attended the school, faking admission tests and giving students cash for their vouchers,” the statement said.
The alleged fraud occurred between 2015 and this year, according to the criminal complaint.
A months-long investigation by the California Department of Insurance, California Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education and the District Attorney’s Office eventually uncovered the alleged scheme.