CHICAGO — A Glencoe woman is accused of running a real estate investment scam that targeted families facing foreclosure. In an indictment filed last week, federal prosecutors in Chicago alleged the self-proclaimed financial advisor lied to those trying to buy homes and used their money for her own expenses, costing victims at least $450,000.
Mary Martinez, 53, of the 1100 block of Pebblewood Drive, sometimes used her maiden name, Mary Flores, to operate a series of businesses over the past nine years, records show. Prosecutors alleged she offered to help people who had lost homes to foreclosure repair their credit and buy another home, at times paying for radio advertising aimed at those with homes facing foreclosure. She denies the charges, describing them as “laughable” and “all false allegations.”
After convincing her victims to transfer money to her — as a payment toward a down payment, to repair their credit or to “invest” in her companies — prosecutors said she would use the money for her own personal and businesses expenses, including retail purchases and paying rent.
“Eventually, Martinez deliberately cut off communications with most of the victims in order to avoid repaying them,” Assistant United States Attorney Jason Yonan alleged.
While she assured financially vulnerable families she would help them, “[I]n fact, Martinez’s misappropriation of those funds left the victims with even less money and did nothing to repair their credit,” according to Yonan, chief of the securities and commodities section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.
In December 2010, Martinez formed America Investment Corporation, which remains active, according to state incorporation records. The next month, she formed Illinois Housing Solutions, Inc. That corporation was dissolved involuntarily in June 2017 for reasons that could not immediately be determined. Then, in March 2019, under the name Mary A. Flores, she formed Investor Short Sale Niche Inc.
In online videos posted by an account called Mary Flores, she explains she got into real estate investing after losing her home in 2007 and promises to help real estate investors generate large profits.
“If I invest in my knowledge and I take the opportunity to learn what I’m going through right now, I can go out there and help other families avoid what I want to avoid which is a foreclosure, so that we can start all over but do it in a better way. And that’s what I did,” Martinez said.
“I needed to create profits very, very quickly and a large amount, especially because I was no longer employed, and I didn’t have a lot of time as a single mom,” she added. “So I have to find different ways to try to make it work.”
Martinez’s lies helped her convince people to hand over retirement savings, college funds and personal savings, according to the indictment. In some cases, after convincing her victims to loan her money, prosecutors said Martinez would offer mortgages on various properties, falsely claiming that she would not give anyone else an interest and pay the taxes on those properties.
In fact, according to prosecutors, she intended to use them as collateral for other loans and failed to pay taxes on at least one of them.
Martinez said the allegations were false. She said U.S. Postal Inspector Erika Hawkins had attempted to bully and intimidate her before the charges were filed last week, including with a bizarre late-night voicemail. The Postal Inspection Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I really feel like I’m being harassed. I’m Hispanic. I’m a woman. I live in a very exclusive neighborhood in Glencoe and I really feel they’re trying to make false allegations of something that I’m not,” Martinez told Patch.
“I am happy to talk to anyone, because I’m not guilty of any of this,” she added. “But it’s the way that they handled it that really makes it more uncomfortable — when you’re not being transparent but yet you’re very good at accusing.”
A federal grand jury impaneled in May 2019 indicted Martinez on 10 fraud counts which cover activities starting with a September 2015 wire transfer of $10,000, purportedly to be used for a down payment, from a couple to her corporate bank account at a Deerfield Fifth Third Bank branch.
The most recent charged offense dates from November 2018, when prosecutors said Martinez sent a text message to a victim explaining she was unable to pay him back.
“I’m hoping to have something in December with the goal of finishing this obligation early 2019,” she wrote, according to the indictment.
Martinez said the people portrayed in the indictment as her victims were “more like family friends” who “didn’t live up to their ends of their arrangement.” She said she had paperwork to prove it.
No licenses could be located for Martinez under either name from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
On Thursday, a magistrate judge set Martinez’s preliminary bail at a $4,500 recognizance bond. Prosecutors said a date for her to be arraigned has yet to be scheduled.
Read 10-count indictment against Mary Martinez, also known as Mary Flores in 20-CR-497 »
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