- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2010

Nearly one year ago, Alma Preciado, a once-prominent figure in Maryland politics and an area mortgage broker, listened as a judge called her Montgomery County’s own “little Bernie Madoff.” The judge told her to return $350,000 to a retired couple who lost their savings in a business deal with her or get ready to go to jail.

As it turned out, neither happened.

Preciado pleaded guilty in a mortgage fraud case but skipped her sentencing last summer, and the one-time radio talk show host who was once a Republican National Convention delegate hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

“She seems to be untouchable,” said Roger Vales, who, along with his wife, lost the $350,000 in a loan transaction with Preciado. She was facing nearly 10 years in prison at her sentencing.

As the months have passed without a trace of Preciado, Mr. Vales said, he has grown increasingly frustrated about whether more could have been done to keep the mortgage broker from disappearing.

Preciado, 60, who had past business ties in Mexico, according to court records, was not required to post bond or surrender her passport before her sentencing. Mr. Vales, weeks before the sentencing, warned prosecutors in an e-mail, “I think she is a high risk individual and at least an attempt should be made to prevent her from fleeing the USA.”

Mr. Vales has provided a copy of the e-mail to The Washington Times.

Robert A. Hill, senior assistant Montgomery County state’s attorney, defended the handling of the case. He said authorities look at two factors when deciding whether to seek jail for defendants before sentencing: first, whether they’re a danger to the community and, second, whether they are considered a “flight risk.”

“In this case, the defendant did not present a danger to the community,” Mr. Hill said.

“And with respect to the issue of flight, we made a number of considerations including that the defendant had been a United States citizen for approximately 20 years, that she had strong ties to the community, having lived in the area for a long time, all of her children and grandchildren live here, and she has been an owner of a business in this community for an extended period of time.”

He also said Preciado had shown up to all of her court dates and that before being charged, she had met with officials in the state’s attorney’s office and hired an attorney.

In addition, Mr. Hill said, the decision was based on the fact that in similar cases, defendants often try to make restitution to victims before sentencing.

“In short, our efforts in the Preciado matter were and continue to be directed toward making the victims financially whole again,” he said.

Formerly a local radio show host, vice chairman of the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus and owner of Metropolitan Financial Services in Silver Spring, Preciado was an alternate delegate at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000.

But her reputation and career unraveled as authorities began looking into a $350,000 loan deal that she brokered in 2005.

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