A man accused of accepting cash for Hazleton properties he didn’t have authority to sell was lodged in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility Monday.
During the arraignment, Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Sowinski asked magisterial District Judge Joe Zola to set the bail for the accused, Ignacio “Iggy” Beato, at $1 million.
Zola agreed to the high bail amount after Sowinski pointed out more potential victims have surfaced, an indicator Beato may have access to “significant funds.” Beato also has demonstrated he is a flight risk by failing to appear at an extradition hearing in Florida, requiring involvement of federal marshals to bring him in, Sowinski said.
Beato, who professed his innocence to reporters outside the courtroom, faces three felony charges: theft by deception, forgery and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received.
According to the probable cause affidavit:
Victims Mariano Ovalles and Amarilis Munoz told state police they first met Beato in May 2014 when they were trying to purchase a home. He was acting as a real estate agent and tried to sell them a property in the 700 block of Lincoln Street.
They issued a personal check for $2,000, but Beato told them to deposit the check into an account at Wells Fargo Bank and obtain a $23,000 cashier’s check payable to Delisia Espinal from Chase Bank in Lodi, New Jersey. Beato later told them that he could not complete the sale and did not return the funds.
Munoz and Ovalles said Beato told them he would be able to sell a different residence in the 900 block of Diamond Avenue with the same funds. They gave him an additional $25,000 in cash and obtained a receipt. Munoz and Ovalles said they did not have an executed sale for seven months. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact Beato, he told them his accounts were frozen and he was under investigation.
Yomaris Peralta, the daughter of Munoz and Ovalles, said she requested assistance from Eugenio Sosa, executive director of Hazleton’s Community One Center. During a mediation session led by Sosa, Beato admitted the documents were fraudulent. Sosa told Beato he must return the money in 40 days and Beato agreed.
Beato met with Munoz, Ovalles and Peralta at his home office inside his Lincoln Street residence and convinced them he would sell them a residence in the 200 block of West Second Street. The victims lived at that residence for more than a year and never obtained legitimate sales documentation from Beato or full reimbursement.
State police interviewed Munoz and Ovalles in August. At that time they were still living in the West Second Street home with their family and had been served with an eviction notice.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who also attended the arraignment, said after the proceeding that her office is aware of numerous other victims and is “working diligently” to investigate their cases. She urged all victims to contact her office or state police.
“This case is very important to us,” she said, noting she was “thrilled” Zola agreed to the $1 million bail.
Salavantis said she is “very confident” additional charges will be filed against Beato but said it is premature to estimate the amount of alleged money involved.
Felix Cabrera and his wife, Mariluz Peralta, are among the other victims seeking justice.
Cabrera said they attended the arraignment to look at the man they say falsely sold them a Seybert Street home, causing their life savings to go “down the drain.”
“I want to see his face,” Cabrera said. “He’s an actor. He’s making believe nothing happened. He’s laughing like he didn’t do anything.”
Peralta said she and her husband gave Beato $40,000 in cash for the home, and they invested an additional $25,000 to $30,000 in remodeling based on the papers he supplied to convince them the purchase was legitimate. The couple and their three daughters were later evicted and now live in an apartment on Alter Street, she said.
The home in question was involved in a mortgage foreclosure sale in 2014, which may explain why the family’s occupancy was not questioned by the owner, county records show.
Beato told Zola he was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Hazleton from New Jersey 13 years ago. He said he is paying a mortgage on a Lincoln Street property.
Zola asked Beato if he was ever convicted of a crime.
“Never in my life in 46 years,” Beato replied.
Beato told Zola he is unemployed at this time because his real estate license has been suspended. He said his wife and their two teenage children are in Florida.
He said he does not have an attorney at this time and received an application to seek a public defender.
Zola scheduled his preliminary hearing for 10:30 a.m. March 30.
The judge said Beato is prohibited from buying or selling real estate if he makes bail. Beato declined the judge’s offer to make a phone call to arrange bail.
“I don’t have a million dollars,” Beato said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.