Hermiston man gets almost 2 years in rental scam

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldNovember 21, 2013 

A Hermiston man who was paid to maintain and secure homes under foreclosure will serve almost two years in prison for running a rental scam and stealing appliances and a vehicle.

Marc A. Trujillo, 24, pleaded guilty Thursday in Benton County Superior Court to five felony charges.

Judge Vic VanderSchoor agreed to the recommended sentence of one year and 10 months for the negotiated plea.

Court documents show that Trujillo was employed by a Utah company that contracts with banks in the process of foreclosing on homes to provide maintenance and upkeep.

Trujillo had work orders for a number of Tri-City homes to mow the lawn and make sure the property was secured. He was not authorized to remove any property.

West Richland police were tipped off in early May that Trujillo was running a Craigslist rental scam.

Trujillo had posted an ad for a rental property on Bombing Range Road that actually was owned by a Navy serviceman deployed overseas and was in the process of being sold. A woman toured the home and gave Trujillo a $1,200 cash deposit April 29, court documents said.

Trujillo had claimed to be the homeowner's employee and even pretended to be the owner in an exchange of text messages. He had forced his way into the home through the back door, and let the interested renter in through the front door, documents said.

The woman was told to pay an additional $600 in cash to Trujillo. But May 1, she went by the home, saw a real estate agent posting a for-sale sign and learned the owner was trying to sell the home before it was foreclosed on.

The agent then contacted police, and a relative of the owner discovered the dishwasher was missing from the home.

The potential renter told police that Trujillo also showed her a property on Monica Street in West Richland, so officers arranged for her to get that home, court documents said. That home also was in foreclosure and the owner lived out of the area, so an undercover officer met with Trujillo on the renter's behalf to finalize the deal.

Trujillo was given another $600 cash, then arrested a short time after the transaction, documents said.

Police found the Monica Street home was missing a washer and dryer.

Trujillo and his girlfriend had been living in a Kennewick home for about a month. That Katie Road house also was being foreclosed on, and stolen appliances from the other homes were found inside.

The girlfriend said Trujillo recently gave her a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, which he claimed the bank let him keep after it was left behind at a foreclosed property, court documents said. Officers traced the Jeep to a Richland home, where the owner recently died. The executor of the estate had reported the vehicle stolen from a detached garage, documents said.

Trujillo initially told police he had authority to remove property and rent the home, but later admitted he messed up.

Trujillo's guilty pleas were for residential burglary, second-degree theft, first-degree criminal trespass, theft of a motor vehicle and second-degree burglary.

Additional charges of residential burglary and first-degree trafficking in stolen property were dismissed.

Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts explained in court documents that she "may have had difficulty at trial proving he unlawfully entered the (Monica Street) residence with intent to commit a crime."

McRoberts said that's because the home was in foreclosure with the owner living out of the area, and Trujillo had limited authority to be on the property as part of his employment.

The trafficking charge was dropped because prosecutors believed Trujillo was held "sufficiently accountable" for the crime spree by admitting to the other five counts.

Trujillo must pay $116 to the West Richland Police Department for a towing bill and $2,000 total to two separate victims.

His criminal record has a 2009 conviction for larceny of a firearm out of New Mexico.

w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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