15 Sep 2014
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Valley Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty to $2M Ponzi Scheme

Celia Gallardo, also known as Celia Zagha, promised 100 percent returns in only 30 days.

Valley Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty to $2M Ponzi Scheme

A North Hills real estate agent and self-described investor pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge stemming from a Ponzi scheme that conned dozens of victims out of at least $2 million.

Celia Gallardo, 42, entered her plea to a single count of wire fraud in Los Angeles federal court and is expected to be sentenced on March 11.

She was arrested in July by FBI agents and charged in a 16-count federal indictment with wire and mail fraud.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Gallardo -- who is also known as Celia Zagha -- bilked investors who put money into her purported year-long real estate investment program.

The defendant didn't speak at the hearing other than to respond to the judge's questions, including whether she understood the rights she was giving up.

"Guilty," Gallardo replied when U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson asked for her plea.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors will recommend Gallardo receive a prison sentence at the low end of the sentencing guidelines -- between 41 and 51 months -- a five-year period of supervised release, and restitution of around $2 million, court papers show.

According to sentencing papers, Gallardo told investors she would purchase condominiums in other states and that the properties would yield extremely high rates of return in very short time periods -- as much as 100 percent return in only 30 days.

Instead, Gallardo spent most of the money on personal expenses, including her home, a Mediterranean cruise with close friends and family, cash withdrawals and to repay earlier investors to perpetuate the scheme, according to the government.

Victims in California and elsewhere lost more than $2 million, prosecutors said.

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