HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A woman has been arrested after Homestead police said they were searching for her and two men in connection with a real estate scam that targeted people who were looking to rent homes.
According to Homestead Police Capt. Fernando Morales, Priscilla Marie Contreras, 32, turned herself in to police Sunday night due to pressure from family members who saw the story on the news.
She faces numerous charges from Homestead and Miami cases, including grand theft, organized scheme to defraud, acting as a real estate broker without a license and unlawful use of a communications device.
Morales said two other people believed to be involved in the scheme, Yordani Carriles Diaz, 43, and Deinoser Bravo, 47, remain at large.
According to a news release from the Homestead Police Department, there are multiple cases in which Contreras pretended to be a realtor and lured victims to vacant homes via social media. Once at the homes, Diaz and Bravo posed as the homeowners and took money from the victims, authorities said.
A man named Kenny told Local 10 News that he spotted the listing on Facebook with the seller’s information, and when he visited the Miami-Dade home, a woman named Priscilla and two others greeted him.
“We came through, we liked the property. I mean, everything looked legit,” Kenny said.
He said he signed a lease and handed over more than $5,000 for first and last month’s rent, as well as a security deposit.
On move-in day, which was last Tuesday, Kenny who is also a father of two, said he arrived in a U-Haul when he saw other families pulling up to the property.
What Kenny didn’t know is that Contreras had access to the property, because court records show Contreras was the home’s tenant, fighting eviction.
Another victim of the scam was Maria Urra, who is 7 months pregnant, and said she gave the trio close to $5,000 in cash after seeing the post on Facebook Marketplace.
“I am trying to look for a place where I could bring my baby when I give birth,” Urra said after giving them all of her savings.
The homeowners said Contreras stopped paying rent for the home.
“The Homestead Police Department does believe there are many more victims out there,” Morales said.
Police said the trio is accused of organized scheme to defraud in at least nine cases in Homestead, ranging from Feb. 18 to March 4.
Miami-Dade police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that his department is also investigating several cases regarding rental fraud, but said they are still “in the process of identifying the subject.”
Contreras’ attorney asked for a reduced bond during her hearing Monday, arguing that his client only has a few misdemeanors on her record and has a 2-month-old baby to care for.
In court it was stated that the total amount of money she took from the victims in Homestead was $24,000.
The judge ultimately ordered that Contreras be held in lieu of a $28,500 bond. A nebbia hearing will be required to ensure that the money used to pay her bond is not money that was stolen from the victims.
If she posts bond, she will be outfitted with a GPS monitor and placed on house arrest. She has also been ordered to not have any contact with the victims.
Anyone with information about the remaining suspects or their whereabouts is asked to call the Homestead Police Department at 305-247-1535 or Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.