- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2010

Alma Preciado, a mortgage broker and one-time prominent figure in Maryland politics, has been captured in Mexico more than a year after she skipped her sentencing in a mortgage fraud case that prompted a judge to call her Montgomery County’s own “little Bernie Madoff.”

Robert A. Hill, senior assistant Montgomery County state’s attorney, said Preciado was arrested by Mexican authorities this week and she will soon face an extradition hearing as local prosecutors and the Justice Department work to bring her back to the U.S.

Preciado, who court records indicate had past business ties to Mexico, failed to appear at her sentencing last summer after pleading guilty for her role in a 2005 loan deal that cost a retired couple $350,000.

Roger Vales, who along with his wife lost the money in the transaction brokered by Preciado, in a phone interview Thursday called her capture “a tremendous relief.” He said he found out about the arrest the day after his 63rd birthday this week, adding “it’s the best birthday present I’ve had in years.”

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 business took a downturn as authorities began probing a loan deal she brokered with the Valeses.

The couple had loaned the money to a borrower Preciado knew who lived in Bethesda, according to court records. Prosecutors said the loan was supposed to be secured by real estate so the couple’s money would be safe if the borrower defaulted.

But no deed of trust securing the loan was ever filed and the couple’s money landed in the bank account of a District-based company called Pidegro LLC, which Preciado helped found, records show. Pidegro spent some of the money on a development project in Mexico, but then it closed after the deal collapsed, according to court documents.

Court records also show Preciado didn’t control the company’s bank accounts, however. The couple has sued both of Preciado’s associates in the now-defunct Pidegro company, but neither has been charged criminally.

Before her disappearance, Preciado sharply disputed the government’s case against her, saying she never misled the couple about the loan deal and that others at Pidegro actually spent the money. Her attorney said she pleaded guilty only because she admitted mishandling about $6,700 in loan proceeds.

The attorney, Jim Shalleck, said on Thursday no one had notified him yet of the arrest.

At the last court hearing before Preciado’s sentencing, Montgomery County Judge Michael Algeo warned her to return the money to the Valeses or face jail time.