The police dispatch said a man named Lamond Dean had been hit in the head with a gun. When the officers arrived about 9:30 p.m. at a shabby bungalow set back from Verdugo Road in Glendale, they knew it would be a long night.
A crowd was milling in the driveway. One man had blood on his shirt. A cop searched him, and fished a pair of wooden knuckles from his pocket. Another cop said he was looking for Dean.
A man stepped forward, looking worn out, like he had survived an ordeal: Lamond Dean.
The officer asked what had happened.
"You know what happened," he said. "It's all over. I just want to go home."
There was a gash on the back of his head, still wet, and a cut on his left pinkie, as though someone had tried to cut it off.
Not far away, officers had pulled over a white BMW for making an illegal U-turn. The driver, Luis Garcia, was bleeding from the forehead. He said he had been kidnapped and tortured, but he couldn't remember how he had escaped.
The officers were right — October 20, 2009, would be a long night.
At 4:30 a.m., a judge approved a search warrant for the bungalow, which was split into two units. On the right was a small apartment. On the left was the office of Abaka Republic Marketing, which began as an outlet for herbal balms before switching to real estate.
Inside the office, police found a bloody handprint on the back of a chair. Blood was spattered on a wall, and broken hangers and broken pieces of a chair littered the floor. The place had the look of a torture scene.
Dean and Garcia had been tied up for hours, whipped with electric cables, threatened with guns, beaten and robbed.
Drug lords do this kind of thing to people. So do godfathers and other figures from organized crime. What could Dean and Garcia possibly have done to earn such treatment?
Police found the answer lying on a desk in the front room, in the form of a green three-ring binder. It was marked "Pending Files Loan Mod."
Dean and Garcia were loan-modification consultants — opportunists looking to milk some profit from the housing crash. At the time, millions of homeowners were struggling to make payments on underwater loans. Dean and Garcia offered to throw them a rope. For a few thousand dollars, they promised to talk to the banks, get a lower payment, keep people in their homes.
They took the money up front, but did nothing to stop the banks from foreclosing. As the recession spread, the real estate world was teeming with such scams. Most victims would just move on, too embarrassed or defeated to fight back.
But detectives could tell from the blood on the wall that Dean and Garcia had run into some homeowners who wouldn't go away quietly. They had taken revenge, meting out a kind of frontier justice that other fleeced homeowners could quietly cheer.
Except for one thing. The homeowners' hands were dirty, too, and had been long before they went to work on Dean and Garcia. Turns out, every victim in this nasty little event was also a villain.
Instead of a simple story of revenge, the case became a study of the sinister side of the real estate boom — and crash — and the easy-money mania behind it all.
Two days after the bloody night at the bungalow, the police arrested Daniel Weston outside his million-dollar home in La Cañada Flintridge. He and his girlfriend, Mary Ann Parmelee, were charged with torture.
Their arrests ended a modern-day Bonnie-and-Clyde spree through the Los Angeles real estate market. Speculating madly, they had turned home-buying into a virtual Ponzi scheme. They had solicited phony investments, racked up unpayable debts and swindled acquaintances and friends. Their trajectory over the last decade would match a chart of L.A. home prices, rising to irrational highs and ending in a horrific crash.
Like all cons, theirs relied on the honesty of the victims. And that made them vulnerable. The last thing they expected was to walk into another con. When they did, their guile turned into rage.
Weston is barrel-chested — 6 feet 2, 250 pounds — with the long, eely lips of a trumpet player. He often claimed to be a Grammy-winning jazz producer. A former landlord said he kept gold records on his wall. Only later did she learn they were commemorative, the kind that anyone could buy from QVC. In reality, he has a record of financial crimes that dates back to the 1980s. In the early '90s, he served three years in state prison for passing bad checks. His court record of battery suggests a temper.