At least six times since March, a couple who own a South Florida real estate company agreed to rental contracts with would-be tenants, only to vanish before handing over the keys and after cashing thousands of dollars in security deposits, police said.
In one instance, police said, Gabriela Salguero and Frank Perugorria even agreed to act as property managers for an Ecuadorean businessman who bought a property in South Florida, then pocketed the mortgage payments and let the property fall into foreclosure.
In each instance, the prospective tenants learned about the couple’s real-estate firm, Real Estate Connection, from small Spanish-language magazines like El Clarin Miami.
Last week, Miami-Dade police found Salguero, 43, and Perugorria, 22, and arrested and charged them with organized scheme to defraud and grand theft.
“They were taking deposit money and not giving victims the keys,” said Miami-Dade Detectice Romelio Martinez. “They had access to those little padlocks with the key inside.”
State records indicate that Real Estate Connection Inc. is an active company headquartered at 11980 SW 144th Ct., Suite 105. Documents show annual reports have been filed for several years that list Salguero as the company president.
The couple’s arrest affidavit shows they live in an apartment at 152 SE 29th Ave. Calls and text messages left on their cellphones weren’t returned. Calls to a number listed for the company in the Hammocks neighborhood of West Kendall went to a recording that said the number had been deactivated.
According to police, the scheme was simple: The couple showed a potential client an apartment, accepted a security deposit, then disappeared.
In one instance on March 17, Salguero’s arrest affidavit says she met two women and showed them an apartment at 8255 SW 152nd Ave. The two women then wrote Salguero a check for $1,350, which was cashed on the same day.
In the next two weeks, police said Salguero provided the women with a contract signed by the alleged owner of the apartment, and accepted another $165 for a parking pass. But the women never saw or heard from Salguero again.
“The defendant never answered her phone calls and did not make any attempts to repay the deposit money,” according to the arrest affidavit.
On another occasion on April 27, the alleged victim gave Salguero two money orders totaling $1,250 for an apartment in a building at 10740 SW Third St. Salguero was to meet the renter on May 1 to hand over the apartment key.
“However, the defendant never contacted the victim, refused to answer any calls, and failed to return the $1,250,” police said.
So far, police have identified nine people caught in the scheme, but they suspect others were victimized as well.
“One of the renters made a report [with police] and it just snowballed,” Martinez said. “We have reason to believe there are going to be more.”