Crime - Sacto 911

Real estate broker sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for ‘rent-to-own’ scheme

A Sacramento-area real estate broker has been sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison for his role in a “rent-to-own” scheme.

Ronald Russell, 73, was also ordered to surrender his real estate license issued by the California Bureau of Real Estate, according to a Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office news release.

A Sacramento County jury on March 24 convicted Russel of 49 counts of grand theft and two misdemeanor counts of petty theft. The jury also found true that the thefts resulted in the loss of more than $100,000. He was sentenced Friday.

Russell, the owner of Summer Hills Realty, was arrested in September 2012 and accused of bilking multiple victims through real estate fraud. From 2009 through 2010, he solicited victims to participate in in his “Rent-to-Own” real estate program.

The victims usually were financial distressed and paid Russel about $2,900 each to join this program, authorities said. In return, prosecutors said, Russell promised to purchase homes for the victims with investor money, rent the homes to the victims and eventually sell the homes to the victims at his purchase price. He reportedly told the victims that he would provide a full refund if they were not satisfied with the transactions.

Instead, prosecutors said, the victims’ money was used to fund Russell’s personal expenses and pay refunds to those participants who previously demanded early refunds. No one got a house through the program and most participants did not received the promised refunds, authorities said. Total losses to the 51 victims amounted to $139,200.