Cara Singleton met Alex Matijas and his boyfriend Esteban in 2011 when she visited her parents at their home in San Miguel de Allende, a hill town north of Mexico City. Alex was the architect in charge of renovating her parents' house. Professionally, he claimed to be a well-known architect in Mexico with a degree from UCLA. Socially, he was charismatic and soon became a close friend and confidant to Cara and her mother. Uncannily, Alex shared many of Cara's interests, especially antique hunting. It was several years before Cara and her parents began to suspect that Alex had been defrauding them from the beginning. His repeated assurance that they could always trust him because they were like family was far from the truth.
In 2012, Alex proposed that he and Cara start a business venture in the up-and-coming town of Todos Santos. They would build two houses of similar size and value on his two seaside lots, keeping their costs down by sharing labor and materials. It was especially enticing because Alex said that the owners of the trendy resort Flora Farms wanted exclusive rights to rent the villas to their guests for culinary seaside experiences. Cara’s husband was reluctant, but Cara was so enthusiastic that he agreed and she began her “opportunity of a lifetime.”
The Contract: Alex said that the project would cost Cara $168,000 for one lot plus $500,000 to build her 2,250 square foot house. Cara put a $50,000 down payment on the lot, with the balance to be financed on completion. Alex set up a payment plan for the house and asked her to wire the funds to an HSBC bank account in his brother's name, in order to keep the funds separate from Alex’s personal account.
The land title was to be transferred into a Mexican bank trust (aka fideicomiso), a process that Alex said could take up to nine months. However, Alex insisted that they start the project right away because hurricane season was coming and if they waited he could not guarantee his availability. Cara reluctantly agreed and wired the initial payment of $235,000 in February 2013, with the intent of getting the fideicomiso in place as soon as possible.
While Alex oversaw the building, Cara bought furniture in Los Angeles. She spent an additional $40,000 on furniture and shipping. Cara and Alex talked and emailed regularly and Alex claimed that the construction was going well. By November of 2013, Cara had wired him $516,436 - the full payment for a move-in ready house.
Cara, her husband, and her parents visited Todos Santos for Thanksgiving 2013. They met Alex and his boyfriend Esteban at the building site and were shocked by what they saw. Alex’s unexpectedly large and elaborate 4,000 sq. foot house was almost finished. Cara’s house was not even 2,250 sq. feet, as contracted. It was a 1,650 sq. foot cinderblock shell with a dirt floor, no electricity and no plumbing. The workers were camping out at Cara’s, making it impossible for work to be done.
Alex was suddenly as cold as ice. He swore that the houses were the same size, and said that she just needed to trust him. Esteban begged them to understand that Alex was having a bad day.
They left Mexico in bleak confusion. They were shocked - they didn’t know how to reconcile the discrepancy between the facts and their friendship.
Alex, in contrast, mounted a bizarre offensive. Instead of addressing the problems with the size and finish of Cara's house, he sent an email demanding an additional $265,500 for additional square footage that was never ask for, never discussed, and does not exist.
At this point, Cara had already paid him more than the full $500,000 for an unfinished house and she realized that she was facing big trouble.
Cara came to accept that her trusted friend had run a con from the beginning. She had her house appraised – it was valued at $76,000.
Then she found out that Alex didn’t own the lots. The title was in the name of John Moreno, a lawyer in Todos Santos whose family owns the real estate company AmeriMex.
Cara went to Todos Santos to confront Alex. When she went to the property, Esteban assaulted her, smashed her cell phone and threatened to “send her home in little pieces.” John Moreno told her she could not access the property. Alex watched from the balcony of his finished house that is furnished with Cara’s antiques.
In May 2016, Cara learned that Alex listed the larger of the two houses for $2,000,000 USD with AmeriMex Realty. The arrows in the interior photo point to the furniture that Alex stole from Cara.
After Cara realized that she had lost over half a million dollars, she started investigating Alex's history and quickly discovered that she was not his only victim.
This list includes:
A mover who filed a police report after Alex stole his truck trailer and shot at him.
A couple who say Alex conned them out of $100,000 during a house remodel.
A client who filed a lawsuit claiming they were conned out of $400,000 during a house remodel.
A store owner who Alex besmirched after she wouldn’t join a kickback scam.
An ex-friend who alleges that Alex initially made his money through credit card fraud in the United States before moving to Mexico.
and there are more...
Cara decided to fight for justice and hired an attorney who specializes in helping Americans who own real estate in Mexico.
Her attorney has filed multiple lawsuits, both civil and criminal.
John Moreno and Alex apparently have been very good at avoiding subpoenas and slowing the legal process down.
Alex denies that Cara ever gave him money. She has detailed contracts and international wire transfer records, all certified and documented through the courts. With this evidence, her case is strong.
What does Cara want? She wants her money and furniture back and to be able to move on from this emotional and financial nightmare. She also wants to help other victims. By fighting for justice in Baja Sur, Cara hopes to encourage others to fight back - to take a stand against bullying, fraud and corruption.