LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles man was sentenced today to 33 months in federal prison for running what prosecutors called a “depraved and cruel'' fraud scheme that targeted Latina grandmothers throughout the Southland in a scam involving fake winning lottery tickets.
Tito Lozada, a 50-year-old Colombian national and Los Angeles resident, was also found jointly responsible with his co-defendants for$190,422 in restitution to victims. Lozada pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Prosecutors wrote that Lozada personally selected elderly women “with particular vulnerabilities'' and exploited those weaknesses for his own personal gain.
Three additional defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and were previously sentenced to prison terms ranging from 33 months to time already served.
Lozada and the others were initially charged in state court with trying to scam a 66-year-old Long Beach woman, but federal prosecutors who took the case said all four defendants were linked to over a dozen incidents since 2017 in which older women were targeted and robbed of cash and valuables in a scheme known as the “Latin Lotto Scam.''
The October 2019 federal criminal complaint referenced crimes across Southern California, including in the cities of Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro, Vallejo, Garden Grove, Ontario, Santa Ana and Chula Vista.
The defendants approached Latina women who ranged in age from 65 to 85 years old while they were alone in public, and speaking Spanish, convinced them 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 they would pay her back, including some extra cash, upon cashing in the ticket.
To further con the victim, one of the co-conspirators would pretend to call a lottery official who was, in fact, a member of the plot and would falsely confirm that the fake ticket in question was a winning ticket that could be released only with a deposit or fee.
The defendants 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 they had the victim's money or jewelry in hand, the schemers 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, according to prosecutors, who called the scheme “depraved and cruel.''
In total, over the course of the nearly 2 1/2-year conspiracy, at least 16 victims were defrauded, causing losses of almost $200,000, federal prosecutors said.
“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. “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.''
Co-defendants Maria Luisa Henao, 44, a dual citizen of Colombia and the United States, Mercedes Montanez, 76, and Luisa Camargo, 40, pleaded guilty and received prison sentences of 33 months, 27 months and time served, respectively. Montanez and Camargo are Colombian nationals who were living in Los Angeles at the time of their arrest.
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