Palm Springs rental scam trial gets underway

INDIO, Calif. -

A Palm Springs man testified today that two men who rented his house to vacationers wrote him checks that consistently bounced and told renters to wire funds to their accounts, then canceled their reservations.

The testimony came at a preliminary hearing for Palm Springs residents Michael Maloney, 52, and Matthew Wehling, 47, who are accused of scamming at least 15 vacation home renters out of more than $50,000. They are each charged with 15 embezzlement counts.

Palm Springs resident Kevin Corcoran testified that Wehling and Maloney, who were friends, rented out his house from January to May 2010. They sent him checks from two bank accounts under Wehling's name, and they all bounced, Corcoran said.

"The mantra in (our) email communication was, `Hold on, the money will be deposited very soon,"' he said.

Corcoran said he discovered that renters were told to wire funds to accounts and were then told their reservation was canceled or they'd have to rent at another property. He said as far as he remembered, he was never paid for rental transactions done by Wehling and Maloney, and they kept booking renters for his house after he told them to stop.

"The checks started to bounce and I knew something was wrong," he said.

Eventually, he went to the police and the District Attorney's Office. He said he did an Internet search on Maloney and found he was a convicted felon with a "laundry list" of other cases.

"I was stunned," he said.

He said he lost about $20,000.

Palm Springs police Sgt. Gustavo Araiza testified that the two bank accounts under Wehling's name were closed because of fraud alerts, and there was "check kiting " -- writing a check for a value greater than the balance from one account in one bank, then writing a check from another account to cover the non-existent funds from the first account.

He talked to two people who said they had each submitted more than $2,000 to rent a residence, then were told it wasn't available.

They were sent reimbursement checks, which bounced when they tried to cash or deposit them, the sergeant said.

Another who stayed at the house were supposed to get part of their security deposit back, but the reimbursement check for that also bounced, he said.

Araiza testified that he found a "trend" of non-sufficient funds in both bank accounts under Wehling's name when he served search warrants on the accounts.

According to police, Maloney and Wehling posed as vacation rental agents over a two-year period, showing clients online photographs of properties they claimed were for rent.

They allegedly would rent out homes owned by local residents using websites such as "Homeaway" and "Vacation Rentals by Owner," according to police.

The pair embezzled money from at least 15 Riverside County residents between March 2009 through April 2011, according to the criminal complaint.

Maloney is also facing nine felony charges in a separate case, including counterfeiting, forgery and burglary, according to court records.

He and Wehling are both free on a $75,000 bond.

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