Federal authorities arrested an El Monte woman and Pico Rivera woman Thursday on suspicion of filing fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants, bilking some of them out of their life savings, officials said.
Claudia Arreola, 35, of El Monte, who own Los Angeles-based California Immigration Services, and her employee, 35-year-old Leticia Gutierrez of Pico Rivera, were taken into custody by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted the women on six fraud-related counts, officials said.
Six victims are named in the indictment, however investigators suspect there are likely dozens more.
The defendants charged undocumented immigrants who were married to U.S. citizens as much as $24,000, claiming to be able to help them secure legal immigration status, Mrozek said. But they went on to submit fraudulent documents, such as fraudulent I-94 cards stating the clients, who came to the U.S. illegally, were in the country legally on visitors’ visas.
“Subsequently, investigators say when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive ‘green cards,’ the defendants allegedly threatened to contact authorities and have the aliens deported,” according to Mrozek.
“Fraud scams run by so-called notarios threaten the integrity of the immigration process and offer false hope to desperate people,’ U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. “The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems.”
Additionally, “at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” Special Agent in Charge for HSI in Los Angeles Clause Arnold said. “Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings, in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves rather than helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”
The similarity between the acronym for Arreola’s business, CIS, and that of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, “was no coincidence,” Mrozek added. Investigators found that money orders and cashiers checks issued to USCIS had been deposited into a bank account controlled by Arreola and Gutierrez.
The two defendants, among others, previously came under federal scrutiny in 2003 when they were sued by the government for allegedly providing immigration services in violation of California law, officials said. Under a settlement, they agreed not to engage in any illegal immigration consulting services.
They opened California Immigration Services in 2006.
If convicted as charged, Arreola and Gutierrez could each face up to 60 years in federal prison. They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.
Police arrested two Glendale men, including one already under investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, after they were caught installing a skimming device on a gas pump at a Sierra Madre gas station early Saturday, authorities said.
Edvard Martirosyan, 27, and Aram Manasaryan, 22, were arrested shortly before 3 a.m. outside the Valero gas station, 4 N. Baldwin Ave., Sierra Madre police officials said in a written statement. They’re accused of several felony charges for allegedly trying to install the device in order to capture credit card numbers of unsuspecting customers.
The U.S. Secret Service, which has already filed a separate case against Martirosyan, is spearheading the investigation into the two suspects, officials said.
The arrests came after police officers were responded to an alarm at the gas station.
“The officers’ quick response to the alarm call allowed us to catch the suspects in the act,” Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone said. “Officers were on scene within one minute of being dispatched to the call and caught the suspects as they were attempting to leave.”
In the suspects’ car, police found other skimming devices, laptop computers, counterfeit credit cards and other tools used to break into gas pumps, officials said.
Martirosyan was out of custody on bond in his pre-existing federal case when he was arrested along with Manasaryan Saturday, officials said. He was arrested in August in connection with an alleged identity theft ring operating skimmers at gas stations in and around the San Fernando Valley.
The incident was the second time in recent weeks police have investigated possible tampering at the gas station.
Police cautioned the public to be wary late last month after learning someone had tried to break in to the gas pumps at the Valero station May 23, police said.
But station owner Edgar Artenyan said an expert had examined the pumps and determined no customer information had been compromised in the crime, which was thwarted by an alarm.
It was unclear if Martirosyan and Manasaryan were also suspected in the May incident.
Officials again asked customers of the station who purchased gas at the pumps using a credit or debit card between May 22 and June 6 to watch their financial accounts for suspicious activity, “just to be on the safe side,” according to the police statement.
“At this point, we cannot be 100 percent certain that some personal information was not captured,”
According to county booking records, Martirosyan and Manasaryan were being held in lieu of $500,000 bail each at the Pasadena Police Department’s jail pending their initial court appearances.
PHOTOS of Edvard Martirosyan (top) and Aram Manasaryan (below) courtesy of the Sierra Madre Police Department.
SIERRA MADRE — Police warned those who filled up at a Sierra Madre gas station Friday to watch their bank accounts for suspicious financial activity after discovering someone had tampered with the gas pumps.
Investigators Friday learned of a break-in during the early-morning hours at the gas pumps at Valero, 4 B. Baldwin Avenue, Sierra Madre police officials said in a written statement.
The gas pumps “may have been compromised,” the statement said.
Anyone who purchased gas at the station using a credit or debit card at a pump between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday were urged to closely monitor their financial accounts for unusual activity, and report anything suspicious to police as soon as possible.
A Pasadena city commissioner and his associate, accused of running a $2.3-million mortgage fraud scheme, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a series of felony charges.
Northwest Commission member and real estate broker Allen Bernard Shay, 55, and former real estate agent Eddie Turner, 44, of Altadena appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court to answer to charges stemming from the alleged fraud related to the 2005 purchase and 2007 refinance of a $1 million home in the 2400 block of North Altadena Drive.
LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors charged a Hacienda Heights man Thursday with nine felony counts for practicing law without a license and bilking four immigrant clients out of thousands of dollars, officials said.
Michael John Hernandez, 57, surrendered at Los Angeles Superior Court, pleaded not guilty and promptly posted $145,000 bail, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.
He’s charged with six counts of grand theft, two counts of unauthorized practice of law and one count of perjury by declaration, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Hernandez previously practiced law in Florida but has never been a member of the State Bar of California, prosecutors said. But he ran a law office in Hacienda Heights where he claimed to specialize in immigration matters.
“The alleged offenses involve four victims and occurred between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2013,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “A loss of approximately $16,000 is attributed to the defendant.”
“Hernandez, who allegedly targeted individuals with immigration issues, purportedly engaged in a pattern of financial fraud against clients who paid for legal services which were not rendered,” the statement continued.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said commended the prosecution team and had harsh words for those who would falsely portray themselves as lawyers.
“To betray the trust of these victims and cheat them out of hard-earned money is heartless,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “Any person practicing law without a license in Los Angeles County — especially those who target vulnerable immigrant populations — will be identified and vigorously prosecuted.”
If convicted as charged, Hernandez could face up to 10 years in county jail.
He was ordered back to court June 9 for a preliminary hearing setting June 9.
PASADENA >> Investigators Friday jailed a West Covina and a Pasadena man on suspicion of reporting a car stolen from an Arcadia shopping mall, then torching it in Pasadena in an insurance fraud scheme.
Tony Martinez Jr, 26, of West Covina and Robert Luis Palacios, 44, of Pasadena, were arrested Friday morning and booked on suspicion of arson, conspiracy, insurance fraud and filing a false police report, according to Pasadena Fire Department officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Martinez owned the scorched 2008 Lexus IS 250 involved in the alleged fraud, fire spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. She described Palacios as his friend.
The arrest came following more than six weeks of investigation, which began about 8:45 p.m. Jan. 25 when Pasadena police were notified of a 2008 Lexus IS 250 which was on fire at Lincoln Avenue and Del Monte Street, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said at the time.
After extinguishing the flames, firefighters determined the fire was suspicious, Clawson said. A possible suspect was spotted leaving the area of the burning car.
About 45 minutes later, Martinez called police in Arcadia to report his 2008 Lexus IS 250 had been stolen from the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall, according to Arcadia police Sgt. John Bonomo.
Investigators determined Martinez and Palacios had conspired to stage a fake car theft and torch the Lexus as part of a conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, culminating in Friday’s arrests, Pasadena fire officials said.
According to county booking records, Martinez was released from custody a little more than three hours after his arrest on $50,000 bail. Palacios remained behind bars Friday in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance.
A man from West Covina who previously had his insurance broker’s license revoked is accused of stealing the identity of another agent who responded to an online employment add to carry out an insurance scam, authorities announced Thursday.
Eugene Shy-Ren Hsu, 31, is charged with grand theft, forgery and identity theft following his Dec. 11 arrest, California Department of Insurance officials said in a written statement.
California Insurance Commissioner David Jones expressed outrage at the allegations against Hsu.
“It is inconceivable that a former agent whose license was already revoked by my office would go to such lengths to game the system for his personal gain,” he said. “I will not tolerate deceitful actions that smear the reputation of honest agents and brokers.”
Though his license had previously been revoked, Hsu owned and operated a business called the NCP Insurance Center.
“(Hsu) allegedly stole the identity of an unsuspecting licensed California insurance agent who applied for a job with Hsu,” according to the CDI statement. The agent had responded to a “help wanted” employment advertisement Hsu had posted online via the website Craigslist.
Hsu used the licensed agent’s identity to write several insurance policies, without the knowledge of either the agent or the individuals named in the policies, officials said. Hsu collected more than $16,000 in commissions from the fraudulent policies, and charged nearly $4,000 in premiums to a credit card he had allegedly established in the name of the licensed insurance agent to keep the scheme going.
Authorities said the crimes took place between June and October of 2010.
Anyone who has responded to an employment add posted by Hsu or NCP Insurance, or who has purchased insurance through Hsu or the company, is advised to watch for unusual credit activity and check with insurers to verify of policies are valid. Those with concerns may contact the CDI’s Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357.
Hsu, who faces up to three years in prison if convicted as charged, was released from custody two days after his arrest after posting a $70,000 bond, according to Los Angeles County booking records. He was scheduled to appear Jan. 6 in El Monte Superior Court.
Nearly a year after fleeing from justice prior to his sentencing, a former San Gabriel man who pleaded guilty to wire fraud after bilking dozens of investors and families out of $11 million was in custody Wednesday, authorities said.
Acting on tips from the public, FBI agents arrested David Kaup, 30, Tuesday at a home where he had been staying in Las Vegas, FBI officials said in a written statement. He’s accused of bilking $9 million from investors through a bogus investment scheme, as well as another $2 million from families through a fraudulent home refinancing scheme.
Kaup, who was free from custody after pleading guilty in connection with his case, never showed up at his sentencing hearing, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. He faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
“(Kaup) was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in United States District Court after pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud on April 9, 2012,” according to the FBI statement. “Once it had been established that Kaup fled the area and justice, a federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest.”
But Kaup did not prove an easy man to find, and the FBI reached out to the public for help in tracking him down.
Media coverage helped generate a tip that led investigators to the Las Vegas home where Kaup had been hiding out, authorities said. He was taken into custody without a struggle.
Kaup pleaded guilty to charges stemming from two different scams, officials said.
In the first scam, Kaup used created a company called Lunden Investments and persuaded investors to give him more than $9 million, which he claimed would fund commercial loans, officials said. But instead, he lost the money trading on the Foreign Currency Exchange Market.
Kaup then started a second con, officials said.
“Kaup admitted that through his second company, (American Loans and Funding), he told homeowners that he could refinance their homes at below-market rates, so long as they provided certain funds up front to demonstrate that they financially
qualified for the special loan terms,” according to the FBI statement. “These funds were supposed to be kept safe during the
loan process and then returned when the loan was either approved or denied. Kaup admitted that he never tried to refinance the homeowners’ loans, and instead used the victims’ money to buy luxury items for himself and to trade on the Foreign Currency Exchange Market.”
He ran a similar scheme with a third company called First Mortgage West, netting about $2 million from 50 families seeking help with refinancing their homes, FBI officials said.
Kaup was expected to be returned to Los Angeles to appear in court “in the near future,” according to the FBI statement.
It was not clear Wednesday if he would face additional charges in connection with his alleged flight from justice.
LOS ANGELES — An Alhambra man received a sentence of more than 7 years in federal prison Thursday for heading a global credit card fraud ring that netted more than $1 million, authorities said.
Zhanghang Wu, 38, received his 87-month prison sentence from United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt in federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. He pleaded guilty in December, 2012, to charges of conspiracy and credit card fraud.
He was convicted of leading a fraud ring that, “used stolen credit card numbers from around the world to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of luxury goods, cosmetics, electronics and other merchandise at retail stores,” Mrozek said.
Once credit card information was obtained, “That stolen information was used to manufacture counterfeit credit cards that bore the names of ‘runners’ — co-conspirators who went to retail stores including Nordstrom, Macy’s, Apple and Abercrombie & Fitch — who used the fake cards to make fraudulent transactions,” according to Mrozek. “After the runners purchased items with the counterfeit credit cards, they either returned the goods for credit, or the goods were sold to other parties.”
Investigators looking into the fraudulent use of credit cards in the San Gabriel Valley first discovered Wu’s wide-reaching scheme, officials said. He had previously been investigated for similar allegations by Chinese authorities.
After searching Wu’s home and finding machinery used to make credit cards and computers containing credit card information, Secret Service agents arrested Wu in July of 2012 in Las Vegas, “where he had He had fled after the search of his residence and where he continued to engage in credit card fraud,” Mrozek said.
“Wu had been living in casino hotels for several weeks and at the time of his arrest, was in the process of sending a group of runners to Chicago to continue the scheme,” Mrozek added.
Wu was the second San Gabriel Valley man to be sentenced to prison this month for widespread credit card fraud.
Xiaoliang Chen, 27, of Monterey Park was sentenced Nov. 4 to more than four years in federal prison for a similar scam that netted nearly a half-million dollars, Mrozek said. Chen was arrested in August of 2012, also in Las Vegas.
A La Puente woman has been charged with 25 felony counts for promising to help more than a dozen people already in financial trouble get quick and easy loans, but instead using their personal information to steal from them, officials announced Thursday.
Si H. Liu, also known as Katie, 44, of La Puente, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges including burglary, grand theft, using an access card and possession of access card information, according to Monterey Park police and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials. She was arrested at her home July 12.
Sixteen victims had been confirmed, with additional victims yet to be contacted by police, Lt. Carrie Mazelin said.
“There might be more who haven’t reported it,” the lieutenant said.
“It started with one original report (in June),” she explained.
After launching an investigation and finding Liu in possession of other people’s sensitive documents and credit cards, detectives linked the suspect to similar crimes throughout the San Gabriel Valley, Mazelin said. Many of the known victims were located in Monterey Park, though some came from as far away as Hacienda Heights.
Liu would take out adds in Chinese language publications such as the Chinese Daily News, according to the police statement.
“Liu asked victims for their identification, social security numbers, and all of their credit cards so that she could ‘check their credit’ in order to obtain loans,” according to the statement. “Instead,Liu allegedly used the credit cards to obtain cash for herself using a credit card machine that she owned.”
Some of the victims also reported that Liu would accompany them to stores, such as Best Buy, where she would instruct them to open up a credit account as a way of building their credit, Mazelin said. Liu would instruct the victims to buy items for her, promising to pay them back, but never did.
The total amount of the alleged theft was not available Thursday, however some of the victims lost thousands of dollars, Mazelin said.
Liu would eventually return the victims’ credit cards, IDs and other documents, but only after making color copies, “possibly for the purpose of committing fraud and identity theft in the future,” the police statement said.
Liu, who speaks both Mandarin and English, has lived in the United Stated for about 10 years, officials said. She represents herself as a real estate agent and may also own a massage business in Fullerton.
Additional victims, or anyone with information was asked to contact Monterey Park police Detective Han at 626-307-1246.
According to officials and court records, Liu was being held in lieu of $560,000 bail pending her next court appearance July 30 in Alhambra Superior Court.
BOOKING PHOTO courtesy of the Monterey Park Police Department