LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Colombian woman with ties to Los Angeles is expected to be sentenced today for targeting Latina grandmothers throughout the Southland in a long-running scam involving a fake winning lottery ticket.
Luisa Camargo, 39, pleaded guilty in February to a single federal count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum 20-year penalty, but prosecutors are recommending an 18-month sentence, plus mandatory restitution of $38,069. The defense is asking for a sentence of the nine months she already served.
Three additional defendants have pleaded guilty to the same charge and are awaiting sentencing in Los Angeles federal court.
Tito Lozada, Maria Henao, Mercedes Montanez and Camargo were initially charged in state court with trying to scam a 66-year-old Long Beach woman, but federal prosecutors who took the case contend all four defendants are linked to multiple incidents in which older women were targeted and robbed of cash and jewelry in a scheme known as the “Latin Lotto Scam.''
The November federal complaint references crimes in Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro and Chula Vista.
According to prosecutors, the scammers targeted elderly Latinas between the ages of 64 and 83 years old who were alone in public and convinced them that they had a winning lottery ticket but needed help cashing it because they were undocumented. The defendants would then ask the victim for money and promised they would pay the victim back including some extra cash when they cashed in the fake lottery ticket.
To further fool the victim, one of the co-conspirators would pretend to call a purported lottery official who was, in fact, another co-conspirator. The co-conspirator posing as a lottery official would falsely confirm that the fake ticket in question was a winning ticket that could be released only with a deposit or fee.
The co-conspirators then would drive the victim to her home or bank so that she could get valuable items like jewelry or large sums of cash to pay the sham lottery ticket deposit. Once the schemers had the victim's money or jewelry in hand, they would create a ruse to get the victim out of the car and flee, taking the valuables with them.
The fraud ring attempted to rip off at least four elderly women per day, and were out looking for potential victims for a minimum of four days per week, prosecutors said.
In total, over the course of the nearly two and a half year conspiracy, 16 known victims were defrauded, causing actual losses of at least $190,422, federal prosecutors said.
From the time that Camargo joined the crew in 2018, about a year before her arrest, she helped defraud five known victims and caused actual losses of at least $38,069, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
“This was an organized group that singled out older women for the sole purpose of ripping off these vulnerable victims with bogus promises of a big payday,'' U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said when the four were charged. “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.''
Camargo, Montanez and Lozada are all native Colombians living in the Southland. Henao became a U.S. citizen last year after emigrating from Colombia.
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