A Colombian woman received a 33-month sentence this week for her role in a long-running lottery ticket scam that targeted Latina grandmothers in Chula Vista and throughout Southern California.
The court also held Maria Luisa Henao, 43, liable along with her co-defendants for restitution of $190,422, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Henao showed a “uniquely depraved and cruel willingness” to victimize the elderly.
Henao’s conduct “spanned years and was the result of a person fully committed to a life of crime,” the document states. “If it were not for (her) arrest, she would undoubtedly have gone on to defraud countless additional victims.”
She pleaded guilty in June to a single federal count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Three additional defendants – Tito Lozada, Luisa Camargo and Mercedes Montanez – pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court to the same charge.
The four defendants were initially charged in state court with trying to scam a 66-year-old Long Beach woman. Federal prosecutors who took over the case linked the four defendants to multiple incidents in which they targeted older women and robbed them of cash and jewelry.
The scheme was dubbed the “Latin Lotto Scam.”
In addition to Chula Vista, the October 2019 federal complaint references crimes in Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood and San Pedro.
The defendants approached Latinas in their 60s and 70s who were alone in public. Speaking Spanish, they convinced the victims that they had a winning lottery ticket but needed help cashing it because they were undocumented.
They would then ask the victim for money and promised to pay her back, including some extra cash.
To further trick the victim, one of the team would pretend to call a lottery official who was, in fact, a co-conspirator. That person would falsely confirm that the fake ticket was a lottery winner that could be released only with a deposit or fee.
The defendants then drove the victim to her home or bank so that she could get valuable items like jewelry or large sums of cash. Once the schemers had the victim’s money or jewelry in hand, they would create a ruse to flee, taking the valuables with them.
The fraud ring attempted to rip off at least four elderly women per day, prosecutors said. They looked for potential victims a minimum of four days per week.
At least 17 victims were defrauded, causing losses of at least $190,422.
“While law enforcement will do everything possible to bring criminals like this to justice, this case should serve as a reminder to potential victims and their family members that no one should ever pay an upfront fee in relation to any prize, sweepstakes or lottery,” said Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, when the four were charged.
Authorities arrested Henao, who became a U.S. citizen last year after emigrating from Colombia, in San Diego.
Camargo, Montanez and Lozada, also natives of Colombia, have addresses in Southern California.
In July, Montanez received a 27-month sentence. Camargo was sentenced in June to the nine months of time she previously had served. Lozada is set for sentencing on Sept. 28.
– City News Service
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