A former mortgage broker was sentenced to 15 years in jail Friday, two years after she fled the country to escape time in jail.
Alma Elizabeth Preciado, 61, once the vice chairwoman of the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus and a respected Montgomery County mortgage broker, pleaded guilty in June 2009 to theft over $500 for her role setting up a loan scheme in which the lenders, husband and wife Roger and Loudres Vales, ultimately lost $350,000 in retirement money.
Preciado never showed up for sentencing Aug. 18, 2009. She fled to Mexico, where she remained until she was arrested by Mexican authorities last year. She returned to Montgomery County last month, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
“Ms. Preciado, when you ran that day, I knew you would be back,” Judge Michael Algeo said, praising the efforts of Montgomery County Sherriff’s Office for their work finding Preciado. “The moral of the story, at least for this sheriff’s office, is: ‘You can run, but you cannot hide.’”
In March 2005, Preciado, who had secured previous loans for Roger Vales, convinced the couple to invest the loan under the pretense that it would be secured by the equity of the borrower’s house in Bethesda, the documents state. The borrower, who was one of Preciado’s business partners, did not actually own the house, and Roger Vales never received a property transfer notice on his loan.
On Friday, Preciado told Algeo she was duped by her two partners. Preciado said she always was forthcoming with Vales about the unsecured nature of the loan, but ultimately it was her partners who cashed the check and stole Vales’ money.
“I had no access to it … I’ve never had any information of that [account],” she said.
Defense attorney Theresa Chernosky argued that Preciado be sentenced to five years of probation so she could get a job and begin repaying the $350,000.
“The only possible way to get the money back is to place her on probation,” Chernosky told Algeo.
Algeo, who once referred to Preciado as “Montgomery County’s own little Bernie Madoff,” dismissed Chernosky’s recommendation, along with Preciado’s pleas to allow her to live with her family to care for her ailing grandson.
“I want to apologize to Bernie Madoff, because at least he took responsibility [for what he did],” Algeo told Preciado. “I didn’t send you to Mexico; you went to Mexico, that was your choice. … Clearly you weren’t concerned with [your family].”
Preciado was ordered to pay restitution to the Valeses in the amount of $350,000 after she fled the country. She was ordered Friday by Algeo to pay $5,000 to the county sheriff’s office and $3,525 to the state’s attorney’s office to cover some of the cost of her extradition.
Algeo was not optimistic Preciado would pay the fines and fees, but they were made a condition of her probation, he said of the order.
Chernosky did not immediately return calls for comment Friday.
Assistant State’s Attorney Robert A. Hill, who prosecuted the case, was not optimistic regarding the chances Preciado would make good on her debts, but praised the message Algeo sent to other would-be perpetrators of white-collar crimes by giving Preciado the maximum sentence of 15 years.
“The sentence factored in the lack of remorse and the fact that she was willing to flee the county to avoid the penalties. … Justice was done,” he said. “Years ago, sentencing guidelines didn’t really make much of a difference between shoplifting an item worth $300 and, say, an investment scheme that costs $3 million. I think the sentence we saw today reflects the changes we’ve seen in that [line of thinking].”
Roger Vales also was pleased with the sentence, but said the case for him was far from over, as long as Preciado’s partners can continue preying on the community.
“At least we got this woman,” he said. “Hopefully, someone can interview her and find out about these other two parties who helped her.”
Vales, 65, said he and his wife, who is 66, spent nearly $200,000 in legal fees and defending themselves from a malicious prosecution lawsuit filed against them by Preciado and to secure their lost $350,000.
“They were trying to intimidate us and make us run out of money and that way we would just stop fighting the case, but luckily that didn’t happen,” he said. “We managed to destroy Preciado’s reputation and her business [first].”
Algeo made reference to Preciado’s suit against the Valeses, saying he was doubtful such a case could proceed following her conviction on theft charges. Regardless, any reconsideration of Preciado’s sentence would rely on her dismissing that case, he said.
Several of Preciado’s family members and supporters were in the courtroom Friday. Preciado’s grandson, who has Crohn’s disease, asked Algeo to allow Preciado to serve her time on probation so that she could care for him.
Algeo was sympathetic for the young man’s health, but not for his grandmother’s actions.
“She wasn’t there to help you when she was in Mexico,” he said.
Preciado also faces charges for failure to appear for her August 2009 sentencing hearing. She is scheduled to go to trial for that charge in January.