O.C. fraud ring officially charged

Three Orange County residents are charged with fraud in alleged real estate scheme

The trio are among six people accused of bilking $4.2 million from more than three dozen victims.

Three Orange County residents are among six people charged with fraud related to an alleged real estate flipping scheme that bilked at least $4.2 million from more than three dozen victims, prosecutors said.

All six were accused of promising investors title to bank-owned homes that they said could be easily resold for a profit, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

The scheme lasted from mid-2009 through mid-2010 and targeted victims through seminars held online and in Irvine, Costa Mesa, Florida and Texas, according to the indictment.

The houses, allegedly sold to victims for as much as $45,000, were pitched as coming with property management services and guaranteed rentals for the first three months, court documents said.

Instead, according to the indictment, the properties were uninhabitable, condemned, worthless and, in some cases, nonexistent.

The defendants paid less than $10,000 for each home, some of which came burdened by tax liens, fines and building code violations, unbeknown to victims, the indictment said.

Defendants include Sylvia Melkonian, 48, of Laguna Beach; Andrew Wardein, 38, of Irvine; and Craig Shults, 41, of Huntington Beach. Also named in the indictment were Paul LiCausi, 47, and Joseph Haymore, 31, of Florida, and Sheridan Snyder, 65, of Tennessee.

Shults’ attorney, James Riddet, said his client plans to plead not guilty. “My review of the facts indicates that he probably should not have been indicted,” Riddet said.

The indictment was handed down April 18 by a federal grand jury but released Tuesday.

Each defendant is charged with at least five counts of wire fraud and could face 100 years or more in federal prison if convicted.

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