updated 10/19/2006 3:10:35 PM ET 2006-10-19T19:10:35

Longtime neighbors of Richard Dee were surprised when a mysterious couple filled trash bins with his belongings and surrounded his home with a chain link fence.

The couple told neighbors that Dee had died and they were the new owners of the home.

But 76-year-old Dee was actually quite alive — recovering from a stomach illness in a nursing home.

Authorities arrested Jesus Duran Aguayo and his wife, Sofia, both 52, on Wednesday for investigation of defrauding elderly and sick home owners of $5 million by illegally taking possession and renting about 100 homes.

They were each being held in lieu of $1.4 million bail following a yearlong state investigation.

The Aguayos will each be charged with 20 felony counts, including grand theft, burglary, forgery and elder abuse, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer. If convicted of all the counts, they could each face about 20 years in prison.

Jesus Aguayo, a licensed real estate broker, and his wife, a licensed real estate agent, trolled for unoccupied homes with delinquent property taxes, paid off the debts and filed bogus quit claim deeds to seize control of the property, authorities said.

The Aguayos are also suspected of clearing possessions from the homes and producing fake documents when questioned, according to the attorney general’s office.

Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Dee said he forgot to pay property taxes after he was hospitalized in 2003 then transferred to a nursing home.

Aggressive tactics alleged
He said the Aguayos came to the nursing home a month later, saying they had paid off his taxes and demanding compensation. They also pushed for him to sell them the home but he refused, Dee said.

Oil paintings by Dee’s mother, family photos and furniture were discarded while the home was cleared, neighbors said. His prized 1967 Ford Mustang was towed away.

Eventually, only the tiny handprints Dee had pressed into cement outside the doorstep when he was 6 remained as evidence he had lived there at all.

“I’ve lived there almost my whole life, my parents lived there, and we were all honest hardworking people,” said Dee, a retired researcher for an insurance company. “It was very disturbing to find out they had taken all this from me.”

Dee regained possession of his home last year with legal help, though he remains in a nursing home while his roof is repaired. He has no hope of recovering other belongings.

“Some of my family pictures, with my sister, mother and father, there’s no money value to that,” he said. “Most of them are lost.”

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