prison.jpgA San Francisco businessman has been sentenced in federal court to 12 years in prison for defrauding homeowners by telling them to stop paying their mortgages.

Sergio Gutierrez, who will turn 49 on Friday, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White on Tuesday.

White also ordered him to pay $89,835 in restitution to 17 Bay Area and Northern California victims for fees they paid him for a supposed mortgage elimination program.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Gutierrez defrauded his clients by falsely telling them they would be able to own their homes outright if they paid him for documents that he claimed would dispute the validity of their mortgages.

Haag said lawsuits filed by the victims were dismissed by various California courts and most of clients ended up losing their homes through foreclosure.

Some of the victims were behind on their mortgages and would have lost their homes in any case, according to prosecutors.

Gutierrez was convicted by a jury in White’s court on Aug. 29 of one count of conspiring to commit mail fraud between 2007 and 2009 and seven counts of mail fraud.

According to court documents, Gutierrez is a naturalized citizen who was born in Nicaragua and came to the United States at age 14.

He formerly operated a small marketing and advertising business that served primarily Hispanic customers and also ran the mortgage elimination program, known as California Association Security Heritage, or CASH, from an office on Mission Street in San Francisco.

Defense attorney Michael Hinckley wrote in a sentencing brief that the recession of the mid-2000s caused Gutierrez’s advertising business to flounder.

“The stress became overwhelming and there is little doubt that Mr. Gutierrez’s judgment and mental well-being were affected,” the attorney wrote.

Prosecutors argued in their brief that Gutierrez took advantage of unsophisticated victims, many of whom did not speak English fluently, by using their common ethnicity to foster trust.

“Gutierrez took advantage of desperate people who had fallen on hard times at the height of the housing crisis in this country. The victims in this case turned to Sergio Gutierrez as a last resort and instead of helping them, he lied to them and stole their money,” prosecutors wrote.

The 12-year sentence imposed by White was longer than the 10-year, one-month term requested by prosecutors. The defense had asked for a sentence of two years and six months in prison.

Gutierrez was indicted in 2010. He has been in custody since Aug. 17, when the judge determined that he was violating the conditions of pretrial release.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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