DOWNTOWN — A financial adviser accused of stealing roughly $500,000 from a Santa Monica artist and then stabbing him to death once the scheme was uncovered plead not guilty Monday to murder charges.

Daniel Gilbert Becerril II, 35, is being held at Men’s Central Jail on $2.4 million bail and is expected back in court on May 15, said Jane Robison, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Becerril’s attorneys declined to comment as they are still poring over what they said were more than 600 pages of court documents.

Becerril was charged in March with murder, money laundering and grand theft in connection with an alleged financial scheme that led to the 2008 fatal stabbing of Alexander Merman, a Russian-born artist who was working as a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District when he was killed in his Santa Monica condo.

Merman, 35, was found by his building manager who had been asked by Merman’s mother to check in on him after she had not heard from her son for several days.

Santa Monica police said Merman loaned $250,000 to Becerril, the owner of a company called AP Financial Group. Following the murder, investigators learned that an additional $300,000 had also been stolen from Merman’s investment accounts and deposited into accounts belonging to Becerril and AP Financial.

Detectives also found evidence of a conspiracy involving employees of AP Financial Group in which the home of an unrelated victim was acquired by fraudulent means and was sold to a third party, resulting in the victim being evicted, police said.

Proceeds from the sale allegedly were received by Becerril and his associates.

Becerril’s wife, 33-year-old Sandra Raya Becerril; sister Rebekah Becerril, 25; and a third defendant, Abram Guajardo, 38, were charged with grand theft, money laundering and forgery for allegedly taking part in the scheme to defraud the homeowner, forcing her out of her Covina home. According to the District Attorney’s Office, victims were swindled out of about $1.4 million.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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