A 35-year-old financial adviser has been charged in connection with the 2008 murder of a Russian-born artist in Santa Monica as part of an alleged financial scheme.
Daniel Becerril II, of Huntington Beach, was charged by the county District Attorney’s Office March 5 with 31 felony counts in the death of 35-year-old Alexander Merman, who was found fatally stabbed in his Montana Avenue condominium in March 2008, district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. Becerril’s arraignment was continued until March 14 and his bail was set at $2.4 million, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
If convicted, Becerril faces up to life in prison.
Becerril was arrested in Orange County March 1 by members of the Santa Monica Police Department in coordination with members of the Huntington Beach Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman said.
During the four-year investigation, detectives determined that Merman was allegedly owed $250,000 by his financial adviser, Becerril, the owner of Huntington Beach-based AP Financial Group, Jackman said. Detectives additionally learned that another $300,000 had also been taken from Merman’s investment accounts and ultimately deposited into accounts allegedly belonging to Becerril and AP Financial, Jackman said.
Police believe Merman invested the money upfront but was killed after he became suspicious of what happened to his money.
“We believe this was a murder for financial gain,” Jackman said.
Merman, a Los Angeles Unified School District elementary teacher, was found dead after a building manager was asked by Merman’s mother to check on his status because she couldn’t get in touch with her son for several days.
When investigating the loss of Merman’s funds, detectives found evidence that an unrelated victim’s residence was allegedly acquired by Becerril and his AP Financial associates using fraudulent means. The house was sold to a third party who later defaulted on the loan, resulting in the victim being evicted and learning that her home had been stolen, Jackman said. All proceeds from the sale of the house were allegedly received by Becerril and his associates.
The scheme involved alleged real estate fraud where some suspects pretended to be victims and accessed investment accounts using victims’ information, Jackman said. The chief called the case a “very broad and deep fraud,” saying police believe there are other victims with potential losses in the millions of dollars.
“What we know now is huge but this could potentially just be the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Police arrested Becerril’s wife, Sandra, in connection with the financial scheme and arrests of additional codefendants were being made. The District Attorney’s Office charged Sandra Becerril, along with Daniel Becerril’s sister, Rebekah, and a third defendant, Abram Guajarado, with grand theft, money laundering and forgery, Robison said. The three defendants were charged in connection with the scheme to defraud the woman who lost her Covina home, Robison said.
Jackman noted that Merman was found dead during the same week when aspiring actress Juliana Redding was killed in an unrelated fraud case that police believe involved millions of dollars.
Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom encouraged other potential victims in the Becerril case to come forward to help ensure that the suspects are brought to justice.
“This is obviously an extremely important investigation; the results are of the hard-working men and women of the Santa Monica Police Department and all the credit goes to them,” Bloom said.
Jackman also thanked his officers for their dedication, saying that murder and fraud investigations are extremely resource and time consuming.
“I wish to thank the many members of the Santa Monica Police Department who devoted an extraordinary amount of time and effort to solving this complex and difficult case,” he said. “Solving this case also depended upon the cooperation of multiple law enforcement jurisdictions from local, state and federal agencies and we are grateful for their help.”
Those who believe they may have been a victim of AP Financial Group are asked to contact the Santa Monica Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at (310) 458-8941.