Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Torture charged in L.A.-area mortgage rescue case

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Los Angeles housing advocates launched a campaign warning of mortgage rescue scams, a couple hit by foreclosure are charged with torturing two loan-modification agents they suspected of fraud, authorities said on Monday.

The couple, Daniel Weston and Mary Ann Parmelee, and three other people are accused of luring their two victims to an office where the men were tied up, held for hours and beaten, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney said.

Police were called after one of the victims managed to escape, said the spokeswoman, Shiara Davila-Morales. The incident occurred on Wednesday in the town of Glendale, just north of Los Angeles.

Weston, Parmelee and the three other defendants each were charged with two counts of torture, two counts of false imprisonment by violence and two counts of second-degree robbery, according to a criminal complaint filed against them.

Weston, 52, and Parmelee, 51, both arrested last week and jailed on $1 million bond, shared a house in the suburb of La Canada-Flintridge that is in foreclosure, authorities said.

"The two allegedly sought loan modification assistance from the victims but believed that nothing was being done and wanted their money back," a statement from the district attorney's office said.

Davila-Morales added that the couple, according to investigators, believed they had been swindled.

Weston and another man, who previously served time for assault, are accused of carrying out the beatings in front of their three co-defendants, who prosecutors say had prior business ties with the two victims by having funneled loan-modification referrals to them.

Each count of felony torture, defined as inflicting "great bodily injury" for the purpose of "revenge, extortion, persuasion and for a sadistic purpose," carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Defense lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

The case became public as Los Angeles officials and community groups kicked off a national public-awareness effort urging homeowners to beware of bogus loan-modification programs and to report suspicious activity to authorities.

Los Angeles was selected to launch the campaign because the metropolitan region ranks among areas with the highest foreclosure rates nationwide, organizers said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Mohammad Zargham)