- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two summers ago, Alma Preciado, once a rising figure in Maryland politics and a successful mortgage broker, was scheduled to be sentenced in Montgomery County after she pleaded guilty to theft in a loan deal that cost a retired couple $350,000.

When she didn’t show up, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service spent the next two years trying to track her down. This week, those efforts paid off.

On Wednesday night, Preciado, 61, was flown back from Mexico, locked up in the Montgomery County Jail and led back into the courtroom of Montgomery County Judge Michael Algeo for a bench warrant hearing Thursday.

Judge Algeo had once referred to Preciado in a 2009 court hearing as “our own little Montgomery County Bernie Madoff.” This time, he told her, simply, “Welcome back.”

The judge ruled that Preciado be held without bond until her sentencing next month. Dressed in jail-issued clothes, Preciado was escorted in and out of the courtroom by armed deputies — a scene that would have been hard to imagine a decade ago.

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

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

According to court records, retirees Roger and Lourdes Vales loaned $350,000 to a borrower Preciado knew who lived in Bethesda. Prosecutors said the loan was supposed to be secured by real estate so if the borrower defaulted, the couple’s money still would be safe.

Instead, prosecutors said no deed of trust securing the loan was ever filed and the Valeses’ money ended up in a bank account of a now defunct D.C.-based company called Pidegro LLC, which Preciado helped found. Preciado has previously said she was open with the Valeses about her involvement in Pidegro LLC and that she didn’t spend the couple’s money, with former associates depositing the funds and controlling the Pidegro bank account.

Even before she fled, Preciado was facing almost a decade in prison, according to a sentencing memo submitted by prosecutors. On Thursday, Judge Algeo said he wanted to know how much the county was forced to spend trying to find Preciado and bring her back to the U.S.

He also thanked Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin, who attended Thursday’s hearing.

The Valeses still don’t have their money, but on Thursday Mr. Vales said Preciado’s capture came as welcome news after years of disappointments.

“I feel like I hit the lottery,” Mr. Vales said.

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