A Valley con artist was sentenced Monday to 240 months in federal prison for masterminding a multi-million-dollar real estate scheme.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips sentenced Michael “Mickey” Henschel, 70, of Van Nuys, who had pleaded guilty May 13 to one count of mail fraud after spending years filing fraudulent documents on homeowners’ properties, and then using the fraudulent filings and litigation to steal money and homes from his victims.

According to a Department of Justice announcement, Henschel – whose aliases included “Frank Winston,” “Steve Lopez” and “Ron Berman” – worked with co-conspirators to deceive vulnerable homeowners – typically elderly people in financial distress and some who spoke limited English. He tricked the homeowners into signing fraudulent deeds on their properties with false promises that the deeds would help homeowners protect properties from creditors or enable them to get equity out of the properties. The victims were duped into signing deeds that were described as fake loans that the homeowners were supposedly guaranteeing for third parties. By signing the deeds, they were pledging their houses as collateral for these fake loans.

Henschel then hammered victims with threats of litigation and extorted monthly payments, according to the Department of Justice. Henschel’s racket generated more than $17 million in profits.

“Assault by legal paperwork, unscrupulous litigation tactics, and low-ball settlement demands were all part of the scheme, as victims often found it cheaper to pay defendant than to fight him, and defendant intentionally arbitraged the high cost of state court civil litigation to extort settlement payments,” Phillips wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

A restitution hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 2. In addition to Henschel, seven defendants linked to his Van Nuys-based companies have been convicted for participating in these crimes. Those defendants are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.