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Disbarred lawyer ran Craigslist rental scam that cost victims thousands, Calif. cops say

Salinas, California, police said disbarred lawyer Gabriel Castillo, 39, was arrested in Merced on theft charges after he was accused of posing as a licensed immigration attorney and running a Craigslist home rental scam.
Salinas, California, police said disbarred lawyer Gabriel Castillo, 39, was arrested in Merced on theft charges after he was accused of posing as a licensed immigration attorney and running a Craigslist home rental scam. Salinas Police Department

A Northern California man bailed out of jail last month after he was accused of running a rental scam on Craigslist — but after he was released, even more victims came forward, police said.

The man charged in the scam, 39-year-old Gabriel Castillo, has now been arrested again after authorities tracked him down in Merced, Salinas police said in a Facebook post on Thursday. Police said Castillo also posed as a licensed immigration attorney, when he had really been disbarred.

Castillo “is facing at least thirty felony counts as multiple victims have come forward,” according to police. He was booked at a Monterey County jail on Tuesday on charges including grand theft and practicing law under suspension, according to online jail records.

Castillo was initially jailed March 28 on charges that he used Craigslist to market a home in Salinas and steal money from prospective renters, but he was released March 29, police said in a Facebook post earlier this month.

Police said Castillo took rental deposits and first month’s rent from hopeful tenants after taking them on walk-throughs of a home he used to rent — but he didn’t own the property and none of the renters who paid could move in, the Salinas Californian reported earlier this month.

“Anywhere from a couple thousand dollars all the way to $6,000 apiece, so we’re talking about a considerable amount,” Salinas police spokesperson Miguel Cabrera said, according to KION.

Soon after Castillo was released from jail in March, several other victims saw news reports about the scam and came forward alleging Castillo also swindled them out of money through a fraudulent ad on the classifieds website, according to police.

But by that point, police said, Castillo couldn’t be found.

Police thanked the public “for the information provided that eventually resulted in Castillo’s arrest.” Authorities also urged caution in responding to Craigslist ads and paying for rental properties, the Californian reported.

Castillo was disbarred as a lawyer in November 2018, meaning he “is prohibited from practicing law in California by order of the California Supreme Court,” according to records from the State Bar of California. Records from Castillo’s disbarment proceedings said he was charged with “numerous ethical violations in six matters.” The court recommended he pay thousands in restitution to six clients. Castillo was previously suspended from practicing law temporarily in 2016, records show.

Sandra Vazquez told KION in early April that she had hired Castillo as an immigration attorney to handle her daughter’s asylum case, paying him $4,000, according to the TV station.

“When I went to the court they told me that someone had already reported him and that he no longer had his license,” said Vazquez, who filed a police report about the incident, according to KION.

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