Judge orders trial on Newman couple's claims of real estate fraud

NEWMAN — Carlos Gonzales and Ernestina Valladarez said they have faced 13 judges in criminal, civil and bankruptcy courts in what's become a five-year fight to save their home.

The couple said real estate agent Erica Burdg of Modesto took $350,000 from them, including a down payment and monthly mortgage payments on their Newman house. Then Burdg tried to evict them.

More than a year passed after felony charges of grand theft, forgery and perjury were filed against Burdg, with no trial on the horizon.

On Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court, the couple's attorney said his clients — as victims in the alleged crimes dating back to 2005 — were being denied their right to a speedy trial.

"These victims have been waiting five years, not knowing whether or not they're going to keep their home," attorney Mike Linn said. "These people have suffered for a long time."

Judge John G. Whiteside said Burdg and her son, Carlos Obando, must face a jury in September after the two pleaded not guilty Monday to all charges.

"I'm not going to be looking kindly on any requests for (delays) for any reason," Whiteside told attorneys for Burdg and Obando.

Burdg's attorney, Kirk McAllister, said the case is "complicated" and delays have been necessary to deal with the volume of paperwork and evidence.

"We can't just throw it on next week," he said, declining to comment specifically on the charges.

Believed they were buying home

Gonzales, 59, and Valladarez, 60, said they believed they were buying a home in the summer of 2002, when they gave Burdg $22,481 and moved into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on a corner lot in Newman.

Linn said Burdg crafted a purchase agreement for Gonzales, but sold the home to her husband, then to her son. He claims the signatures of Gonzales and the home's previous owners were forged on sales documents.

Burdg later filed a lawsuit to evict the Newman couple, who prevailed in November 2006 when a Superior Court jury said Gonzales and Valladarez didn't have to move out. A three-judge appellate panel agreed.

At issue was an agreement presented by Burdg that made Gonzales, Valladarez and their teenage son renters. Gonzales said he never signed the document giving up his right to the house. He was backed by a handwriting expert who said the agreement appeared to be fabricated, endorsed with a cut-and-paste signature of Gonzales'.

In a 2008 interview with The Bee, Burdg said Gonzales and his wife were just tenants who repeatedly refused to take back their down payment.

"It was supposed to be an easy eviction, but it turned out to be something totally different," Burdg said.

Meanwhile, the Newman family said the case's delays have taken a toll. Gonzales said he is depressed, unable to eat or sleep because he blames himself for the family's financial woes.

But Valladarez, a laborer at Foster Farms, and her husband said they're optimistic now that a jury will hear their case.

"Finally, we're going to get justice," Valladarez said.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.

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