Officials warn of con artists posing as fire inspectors

LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Authorities Thursday warned business owners and employees of a recent trend of con artists posing as fire inspectors.
“Businesses throughout Los Angeles County and across the state have been targeted by scam artists who wear official-looking blue shirts and pants and claim they are there to “inspect” the fire extinguishers, smoke alarms or sprinkler systems,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a consumer alert.
“They ask an unsuspecting employee to sign a form authorizing the inspection,” Cooley said. “Weeks or months later, a bill comes to the business’s owner for ‘work done’ or ‘services rendered.’ The bill, sometimes for an ‘annual inspection,’ appears to have been signed by the employee.
Such inspections are carried out by local fire departments, however a fee is never charged, officials said.
Before letting a person claiming to be an inspector into a business, employees and shopkeepers are advised to demand government-issued identification and a business card.
“Local fire department officials all have badges, and their uniforms will state the department for which they work,” according to the consumer alert.
Anyone who believes they may be dealing with a bogus inspector is asked to contact local law enforcement, or the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Public Affairs Section at 323-881-2411.

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Internet scam targets job seekers

WHITTIER — Police are cautioning the public about an Internet scam that has become increasingly common over the past two months.
The con takes advantage of people who are looking for jobs via websites such as Monster.com, Craigslist.com and others, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said in a written statement.
Victims have come across job listing claiming they can make money working from home, the officer said.
“Once you make contact with the business and show interest, they begin to contact you through the Internet only,” the officer said. “They instruct you that you have been hired and that you can work from home.”
The scammers then tell the victims to price shop for needed items, such as phones, computers and desks, and that the company will send them a check, usually for $2,000 to $2,500, to cover the cost of the supplies, White said.
“Once you have received the check, they will ask you to deposit the check into your account and ask that the funds be available immediately,” according to the statement.
Victims are then told to keep several hundred dollars to cover the cost of work expenses or for the first week’s salary, and send the rest back via a wire transfer.
“What you need to be aware of is the company you are dealing with is a fake company and the check they send you is counterfeit,” White said.
Anyone who believed that may have been targeted by this type of scam is asked to report it to the police, officials said.

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Parolee from Monterey Park sentenced again for ID theft

LOS ANGELS — A federal judge Monday sentenced a Monterey Park man who was already on parole for identity theft to 8 years in prison in connection with another identity theft case, officials said.
Robert Delgado, 40, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. He also admitted participating in a scheme in which he and others used other people’s information to obtain credit at stores and make purchases.
When arrested on March 8, Delgado was trying to hide a computer hard drive that contained personal information for more than 300,000 people, computer images used create copies of credit cards, computer images used to create DMV documents and ID cards and scanned checks in the names of other people, Mrozek said.
“Authorities are continuing to investigate how Delgado came into possession of the 300,000 identity profiles,” he said.
Three other men involved in the fraud have also been guilty and are awaiting sentencing, officials said.
Officials learned of the fraud after a victim reported to the U.S. Post Office that his mail had been put on a vacation hold without his permission, and there were fraudulent charges on his Lowe’s store credit card, which was managed by GE Moneybank, Mrozek said.
“Delgado’s telephone records showed that he had called GE Moneybank’s automated service line, which allows callers to check their available credit, 350 times in three months, even though he did not have a Lowe’s account,” Mrozek added.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

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West Covina woman gets 9-years in prison for $7 million Ponzi scheme

LOS ANGELES — A West Covina woman received a 9-year prison sentence Monday for running a Ponzi scheme in which she defrauded about 150 victims out of nearly $7 million, authorities said Tuesday.
Guadalupe Valencia, 47, was sentenced by United States District Judge S. James Otero and ordered to pay $5.2 million in restitution, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
She pleaded guilty last December to two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of tax fraud.
Through offices of a Downey companies she called Real Estate & Loan Consultants and R.E. Equity Group, Inc., Valencia solicited investments from investors promising large and timely returns, Mrozek said.
“Beginning in 2001 and continuing through 2009, Valencia promoted two types of investment pools, with one purportedly funding loans to purchase real estate, and a second purporting to fund short-term loans to businesses,” Mrozek said.
“Valencia admitted that she falsely told investors that their investments were fully secured, backed by deeds of trust on valuable real estate, as well as promissory notes that equaled ‘money-back guarantees,’” he said.
“When she pleaded guilty, Valencia admitted that the investments she promoted did not generate any profits and that she used newer investor funds to pay investors,” Mrozek said. “Further, Valencia admitted that she had provided the victims with worthless promissory notes she had created.”
Valencia stole $6.9 million dollars, and paid $1.7 million of the money back to investors, officials said.
The investigation was carried out by the IRS and the FBI.

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Officials warn of telephone scam

WHITTIER — Police are cautioning residents to be wary of an old scam that’s made a resurgence lately in which con artist claim to be troubled relatives in need of emergency money.
The so-called “relative scam” or “grandparent scam” appears to grow more prevalent during the holiday season, when people are more likely to be traveling, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said.
Two Whittier residents have been conned out of nearly $9,000 in this type of scam in recent months, the officer said.
In the scam, “An individual calls, either from Mexico or Canada. Once you answer the phone, the individual keeps the conversation vague until the victim (you) gives them a name of a family member,” Whittier police said in a written statement.
“Once the individual has that name, they will claim to be that person. The scammer then will tell you that they need money wired to a certain location because they have an emergency. The emergencies consist of; car accidents, auto repairs, they need bail money or they have to pay hospital bills for injuries,” the statement said.
An 82-year-old Whittier woman fell victim to the scam Aug. 31 and wired $2,800 to the crooks after she received a phone call from someone “pretending to be a relative in jail (in Mexico) and needing bail money,” White said.
A 34-year-old Whittier woman also came across the scammers on July 16, police said.
Over two days, he said, “She had wired a total of wired about $6,000 to a person in Mexico claiming to be in an accident.” The caller said the money was needed to pay for medical bills and damage to the vehicle of the other driver.
“We want to make the public aware that this scam is out there,” White said.
Similar scams have been reported throughout the region in recent months and years.
In January, two elderly West Covina resident sent about $4,800 and $9,500, respectively, though the same type of con, and an elderly Arcadia couple was duped out of about $17,000, officials said.
In October of 2009, an elderly Whittier man wired $2,8000 to scammers who convinced him his grandson had been in a car crash in Canada and needed money, according to investigators. He was about to wire more money when an alert Wal-Mart employee tipped him off to the scam.
The complex nature of the crime, and the fact that it appears to involve crooks outside the United States, investigators have said this type of scam is highly difficult to prosecute. As detectives work to gather useful information about the con artists, they advise they public to be cautious on the telephone.
Whittier police offered some tips to avoid being scammed when talking on the telephone.
“First, if you receive a call from someone pretending to be your relative, make them tell you their name. Never assume you are talking to your relative,” according to the police statement.
“Second, ask them specific questions that would make them prove they are your relative. If they can’t prove who they are, hang up. Third, if you believe you are talking to a relative and they are asking for money; double check their story before your wire the money to them. You can check by asking for their phone number to call them back. You can also call another relative to confirm their story.”

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El Monte woman conned out of $28,000 in Lottery scam

From City News Service:

EL MONTE — Police Friday sought the public help to find three people who defrauded an El Monte woman out of $28,000 in a lottery scam.
On April 4, the suspects befriended the 52-year-old woman, who speaks only Spanish, and convinced her that they had a $1.7-million lottery ticket, El Monte police Detective Tim Siedentopp said.
They told the woman they needed money to help them cash the ticket, and they would give her a $15,000 payment, Siedentopp said.
The suspects drove her to two Bank of America branches in El Monte, and she withdrew $20,000 from one bank and
$8,000 from another, Siedentopp said.
She gave the suspects the money, and they drove her to a market, where they asked her to buy them some water “while a suspect made a photocopy of the lottery ticket prior to responding to a lottery office in Temple City to collect their winnings,” Siedentopp said.
When the woman lost sight of the suspects, they fled.
Police released security photos of one suspect, a woman described as Hispanic, about 30-35, 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a medium build. She had brown hair and brown eyes.
She was accompanied by a Hispanic man of about the same age and height. A description of the third suspect was not released.
Anyone with information about the case was urged to call police. 
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3 women suspected of funeral donation scam in Covina

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COVINA – Police arrested three Arizona women Friday on suspicion of tricking drivers into donating money by falsely telling them they were collecting for the funeral of a young boy, authorities said.

Patricia Quihuis, 53, of Bianca Price, 20, and Esther Munguia, 36, were booked on suspicion of conspiracy and fraudulently collecting charitable donations, Covina police Sgt. Trevor Gaumer said.
The women stood at the corner of Azusa Avenue and Arrow Highway about 4 p.m., each holding signs with pictures of a smiling boy of about five years old, he said. The signs read, “Funeral donations. Please help. God bless. Thank you.”
“I think it’s despicable that people would pray on human emotions in order to steal,” Gaumer said.
A passer-by reported the women to police, the sergeant added.
“He thought it was suspicious because they had been seen at that location a few weeks prior,” he said.
The women initially told police that they were raising money for a young boy who was killed two days prior in a car crash in Anaheim, Gaumer said. Police quickly determined that no such crash had taken place.
The women had collected nearly $1,000, police added.
Friday’s arrests were the second time in recent history that San Gabriel Valley residents have been arrested for trying to defraud generous strangers out of donations through this type of scam.
Raymond Johnston, 54, of Azusa was arrested Sept. 15 on Citrus Avenue near the 210 Freeway in Azusa on suspicion of soliciting for a false charity for holding up a sign asking for donations to help pay for his 11-year-old son’s funeral, Azusa police said at the time.
Upon police questioning, officials said, he admitted he made up the story to make money.
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Meet South Pasadena’s “Bernie Madoff”

South Pasadena’s Bernie Madoff will be in court today for arraignment:

SOUTH PASADENA – The man local authorities have dubbed “Bernie Madoff of South Pasadena” is scheduled to be arraigned Friday at Los Angeles Superior Court.

Morris Gussin is facing twenty felony counts of grand theft and securities violations in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme.

He was arrested by a Federal Bureau of Investigations Task Force in Las Vegas and was extradited by South Pasadena authorities after a two and half year investigation.

Janice and Carlos Sams Cespedes said they were referred to Gussin by a mutual friend to help them go over their insurance policy and write a will after Carlos was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004.

“She trusted him and because she trusted him, I trusted him,” Janice said. “He used her name because she’s known in the Pasadena community and unbeknownst to her he was stealing people’s money.”

Gussin is being represented by the law firm of Brown, White & Newhouse, LLP.

“(Gussin) will certainly enter a plea of not guilty to the charges,” said George Newhouse, attorney. “A great number of the charges appear to be seven or eight years old and under the law they have three years to allege grand theft.”

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Azusa man suspected in $45,000 scam

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WEST COVINA — Police arrested an Azusa man Wednesday on suspicion of scamming a Covina woman out of $45,000, authorities said.
Gerardo Alejandro Torres, 27, was booked on suspicion of grand theft and was released later Wednesday after posting $20,000 bail, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
Police released a picture of Torres on Thursday in hopes of tracking down additional victims, Lopez said.
“We think this guy’s probably done this before,” he said, adding that Torres may have targeted the woman because she spoke primarily Spanish.
After obtaining a search warrant for Torres’ home, “We found $39,000 in his house,” he added. The other $6,000 allegedly stolen from the woman remained unaccounted for.
The scam took place Monday, West Covina police said in a written statement.
Torres told the woman he could help her buy a house in Ontario without going through the usual escrow process and without the usual fees, authorities said.
The woman gave Torres $45,000 and the two went to a Carrows restaurant in West Covina, 101 S. Azusa Ave., Lopez said.
While at the restaurant, Torres told the woman his car had been broken into and the money had been taken, according to the police statement.
Torres then called police and reported the break-in, Lopez said. “The woman, who spoke Spanish, didn’t really understand what was being said.”
When she realized Torres had not reported the $45,000 as missing, she herself became suspicious and called police.
An investigation led police to jail Torres, Lopez said. Other charges may be added in the future.
“There could be other victims out there and the suspect may have been targeting the Hispanic community,” the police statement said.
Officials ask that anyone who has had a suspicious encounter with Lopez to contact the West Covina Police Department.
According to court records, Torres is due for arraignment in West Covina Superior Court Friday.

*Photo courtesy of the West Covina Police Department

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Nurses gone wild

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At left is Susan Bendigo, also known as Susan Lim. She’s a federal fugitive in a 42-defendant case involving shady nurses operating out of Santa Fe Springs. 

The US Attorney’s office unsealed indictments against several local nurses allegedly involved in a Medicare scam. Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Justice Department sent out a press release referring to the caper as “Nurses Gone Wild.”
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