Police searched a Santa Ana rental listing business and questioned employees Wednesday to investigate complaints from at least 50 clients who say they didn’t get what they paid for.
Santa Ana police said First Step Rentals enticed customers with ads in Craigslist and Pennysaver.
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The business charged customers $200 each in cash or debit card payments to receive a property listing with affordable housing options in the area, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
Customers allege that they were given no money when trying to get a refund from First Step after the rentals were not what they expected, Bertagna said.
"My guess is more people will realize they can come forward and report the crime," Bertagna said, adding police will submit the case to the District Attorney’s office.
Customers' reviews of First Step on Yelp, Scambook and Ripoff Report allege they spent $200 and never found homes through the business. The company has an F-rating on the Business Consumer Alliance website.
The business is operated by Raymond Anthony Fuentes and Richard Anthony Rodriguez, who were not there during the police search, Bertagna said.
It's not the first time they have come to the attention of state regulators.
In 2004, the California Bureau of Real Estate issued a desist and refrain order against Fuentes for conducting real estate activity without a proper license.
California Bureau of Real Estate officials said Rodriguez has been operating companies like this for years without having a license.
Rodriguez was a subject of an NBC4 I-Team investigation in 2012. In that report, insiders told NBC4 Rodriguez operated a company called Hacienda Homes, and those customers complained they had paid hundreds of dollars for help in finding a rental apartment only to be told the leads were either non-existent or not for rent.
An enforcement agent with the California Department of Real Estate told NBC4 in 2012 Rodriguez was a "kingpin of rental scams."
Rodriguez declined to be interviewed but said that he did not run those rental agencies.