Two men and two women have been named in a federal indictment by a grand jury for allegedly defrauding elderly women by convincing victims they needed financial assistance to collect a winning lottery ticket, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Los Angeles announced today, along with partners at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigators from the San Diego County Attorney’s Office working with the Chula Vista Police Department were instrumental in identifying the defendants in this case and linking the San Diego case to several others in California and the United States.
A federal grand jury issued an indictment on November 11 charging four people with wire fraud for their roles in a scheme that targeted older female victims, stealing cash and other valuables from them in a scheme known as the “cash scam. Latin lottery “.
The defendants are Colombian citizens residing in the Los Angeles area. They are Maria Luisa Henao, 43; Luisa Camargo, 38; Mercedes Montanez, 68; and Tito Lozada, 49.
Henao was arrested in San Diego and is in federal custody here. The other three defendants were arrested in Long Beach, California, and are in federal custody in downtown Los Angeles after being initially arrested on state charges brought by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The defendants were transferred to federal custody in recent weeks and had an initial appearance in United States District Court. All defendants were denied bail.
The four defendants have been linked to at least 10 unrelated cases in which an older woman was approached by a combination of the defendants who falsely claimed that he or she had a winning lottery ticket and needed help collecting the ticket.
As part of the scheme, the defendants pretended to communicate by telephone with lottery officials who were, in fact, accomplices. The alleged lottery official would falsely confirm that the ticket was a winning ticket, but that the funds would only be released if a deposit or fee was paid in advance. At the time, another defendant became involved with the victim and, knowing that the lottery ticket was worthless, would offer to help cash the ticket. This allegedly served to encourage victims to contribute money or jewelry towards the deposit or ticket fee. The victims would then be led to obtain money and other valuables from their homes and / or withdraw money from their banks.
The defendants would falsely tell the victims that additional money was needed to obtain sufficient funds for the deposit or ticket fee, and then they would drop them off at a random residence where they claimed that the rest of the funds would be released. At that time, the defendants would leave with the victim’s money and valuables.
“It is important that we stop these financial predators, especially when targeting elderly victims within the Spanish-speaking community,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “I am proud of our investigators, who collaborated with local and federal police to bring down this network of thieves who prey on victims in supermarket parking lots.”
One of the defendants was originally charged in San Diego County, but prosecutors worked with her counterparts at the United States Attorney’s Office to dismiss the case in favor of the federal charges.
The prosecution specifically accuses the suspects of defrauding six victims; however, the Los Angeles Grand Theft Task Force and its partners have linked the defendants to at least 10 victims over the past two years in the southern California cities of Long Beach; Maywood; Baldwin Park; Hawaiian Gardens; Chula Vista; Fontana; Lakewood; Vallejo; and San Pedro.
“Our senior community is often a convenient and lucrative target for scammers and while we have indicted some of the perpetrators in this case, we know that many others are working to take their place,” said Paul Delacourt. , Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles. “Educating ourselves, as well as our older family and friends, is crucial so that they can take precautions and avoid victimization.”
The indictment also names defendant Lozada on a separate count accusing him of owning device-making equipment, commonly known as a credit card reader / writer and used to replicate credit cards to commit fraud and identity theft.
If found guilty of the charges in the indictment, they face a legal maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
This case is the result of a joint and ongoing investigation by the FBI’s Grand Theft Task Force in Los Angeles, which is comprised of FBI agents and detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department. Los Angeles County provided considerable assistance during this investigation. The defendants are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.