One of the “ringleaders” of a massive mortgage fraud scheme will spend the next 18 years in federal prison for her role in a scam that bilked more than 4,000 struggling homeowners out of more than $7 million.

Earlier this week, Andrea Ramirez, 47, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $6,764,743 in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

Ramirez becomes the latest member of the scheme to be sentenced to federal prison.  

In June, Christopher George, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga; Crystal Buck, 40, of Long Beach; and Albert DiRoberto, 62, of Fullerton; were convicted for their roles in a scheme that offered phony mortgage modifications to thousands of financially distressed homeowners who lost more than $7 million when they paid for services that were never provided.

In total, 11 members of the scheme have been convicted.

According to a release from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Ramirez was the co-owner and organizer of a telemarketing operation known under a series of names – including 21st Century Legal Services, Inc.

Employees of 21st Century made numerous misrepresentations to more than 4,000 victims during the course of the scheme, including falsely telling victims that 21st Century was operating a loan modification program sponsored by the United States government. 

Victims were generally instructed to stop communicating with their lenders and to stop making their mortgage payments.

George and Ramirez were co-owners of 21st Century, with Ramirez acting as a sales manager for the company. George also ran his own sales office there for several months.

SIGTARP said that George instructed 21st Century employees to make misrepresentations to distressed homeowners, including guaranteeing that 21st Century would obtain loan modifications and telling homeowners that payments made to 21st Century would go towards homeowners’ mortgages.

According to SIGTARP, Ramirez and other 21st Century employees would, on occasion, tell homeowners that 21st Century was using the fees paid by the homeowner to make mortgage payments, when in fact Ramirez, George, and their co-defendants were simply pocketing the homeowners’ money.

SIGTARP said that 21st Century employees contacted distressed homeowners through cold calls, newspaper ads and mailings. The company also controlled websites that advertised loan modification services.

Once they contacted the distressed homeowners, 21st Century employees often falsely told clients that the company was operating through a federal government program, that they would be able to obtain new mortgages with specific interest rates and reduced payments, and that attorneys would negotiate loan modifications with their lenders.

After federal authorities executed a search warrant at 21st Century, Ramirez relocated 21st Century’s offices, renamed the company and made it appear it was operating out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

For his part in the scheme, George received a sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

“As the ringleader in a scheme to dupe thousands of distressed homeowners out of their last dollar at the height of the financial crisis, Andrea Ramirez earned the next 18 years in federal prison, which she should use to reflect on her victims,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“Using cold calls, newspaper ads, and mailings, Ramirez and her co-conspirators lured in unsuspecting homeowners with promises of a 98% mortgage reduction success rate, and lies that their company, 21st Century Mortgage, was operating a program sponsored by the United States Government,” Goldsmith Romero continued. “Ramirez instructed homeowners to stop talking to their lenders and send their monthly payments to 21st Century. This horrific fraud scheme stole $7 million from homeowners, but did absolutely nothing to help.”