OAKLEY "” A former NFL fullback and Super Bowl winner has been arrested in connection with an Internet scam that bilked victims out of thousands of dollars by fraudulently renting out vacant homes, police said.
James Hodgins, 33, a San Jose native who now lives in Oakley, was arrested Tuesday night, police said. Hodgins played fullback for the St. Louis Rams when they won the Super Bowl in 2000. A San Jose State alumnus, he also played for the Arizona Cardinals and finished his football career with the New York Jets in 2006.
Another suspect, 39-year-old Carlos Gomez, of Oakley and San Francisco, was arrested in May on suspicion of fraud, theft under false pretenses and burglary.
Because investigators suspect the operation involved more victims and jurisdictions, the District Attorney"s Office is holding off on charges until a larger case can be compiled.
"It will get filed on eventually," said Oakley police Detective Sean Eriksen. "We"re still looking into other locations. This is going to be pretty big."
Oakley police Chief Chris Thorsen said police received a tip about a scam in February. More victims came forward, and investigators started to piece together a common thread: The home "rentals" were posted on Craigslist using fake names and dummy corporations, and prospective renters met with someone posing as a homeowner or real estate agent who asked for a cash deposit as well as first and last months" rent.
The renters "” six victims have been identified "” learned their housing agreements were bogus when a bank representative, real estate agent or resident with actual claim to the home showed up, often while the renters were settling in, Thorsen said.
In at least one case, police broke the news to a victim.
"We had to tell some poor guy to leave," Eriksen said. Some banks are helping victims to stay in the homes they had occupied, he said.
Police got a break when they were called to an Oakley home May 23 for a "suspicious circumstance." Responding officers, already familiar with the scam, came across a man posing as a real estate agent and quickly determined that he was lying, Thorsen said.
They arrested the man, identified as Gomez. From there, detectives further unraveled the scheme.
On Tuesday, police served a search warrant at Hodgins" home and recovered evidence of the operation, Thorsen said.
Thorsen said his department has contacted other police agencies for links to the case.
Gomez and Hodgins targeted vacant homes that either had been foreclosed or were under short sale, broke in and changed the locks, Eriksen said.
The arrests are a cautionary tale, Thorsen said, stressing that prospective renters verify an agent"s credentials.
There are other telling signs, Thorsen added, such as someone who takes messages on one phone line and makes calls from another, with the number usually blocked.
"You should ask, "Hey, where"s your office at?—" Thorsen said. "If they hesitate, that should give you cause for concern."
Anyone with information about the case or thinks they may have been victimized can contact Oakley police Detective Sean Eriksen at 925-625-8855 or a local police department.
Robert Salonga covers public safety. Contact him at 925-943-8013. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.