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PTA Moms Suspected of Squandering $4M of Victims' Money in Ponzi Scheme

A trio of PTA mothers are suspected by Los Angeles County Sheriff's investigators of masterminding a 3-year Ponzi scheme that collapsed after the schemers could not pay a debt of $4 million to over 40 investors.

Three Diamond Bar PTA moms at allegedly duped around 40 investors in a Ponzi scheme that lost victims up to $4 million.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's investigators believe that a total of $14 million was drawn in as part of the phony investment scheme and that $4 million was squandered by the PTA mothers.

UPDATE - July 8, 3:16 p.m.: Sheriff's investigators said .

UPDATE - July 6, 6:13 p.m.:

Two of the women were arrested at their Diamond Bar homes Tuesday after a six month fraud investigation that was linked to a third woman who was already convicted on separate fraud charges, according to Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.

All three women — 41-year-old Maricela Barajas (aka Maricela Torres), 50-year-old Juliana Menefee, and 51-year-old Eva Perez (convicted on previous charges) — had used social functions and school events to build trusting investors, who were told that the trio had an exclusive contract to distribute AltaDena Dairy products at Disneyland, Disney Hotels, and to small retailers.

The group promised investors a rate of return of up to 100 percent, enticing many of the victims to take out second mortgages on their homes, max out credit cards, and hand over their life savings to contribute a total of $14 million to the scheme.

With pressure from investors for payments, the group returned $10 million but was unable to come up with the additional $4 million.

Detectives from the Sheriff's Commercial Crime Bureau found that over $1.5 million were actual losses to the victims and another $2.5 million has not been located.

"It is speculated that the suspects used the money for lavish vacations, expensive hotels, new cars, and casinos in California and Nevada," Parker said in a news release.

Pressure continued to build and led to an internal audit of the business — meanwhile, one victim contacted deputies at the Walnut/Diamond Bar Sheriff's station to report the fraudulent transactions taking place at Perez's residences in Chino and on Wagon Trail Drive in Diamond Bar between 2008 and 2010.

Investigators found that the trio dealt only in cash and also collected money from investors at Barajas's Hopi Street home and Menefee's home on Beaverhead Drive in Diamond Bar.

The over 40 known victims resided in cities throughout the Western U.S., from Redondo Beach to Salt Lake City, Utah. and had indivdually invested between $5,000 and $208,000.

Sheriff's investigators said that most of the victims interviewed were embarrassed that they fell for the scheme that gave them hope "to make a better life for themselves and their families."

Perez, who pleaded guilty in a San Bernardino court to multiple felony counts of grand theft in 2010 for the same type of scheme, was already sentenced with 11 years in prison and an order to pay restitution to the victims.

Perez will face separate charges for involvement in this most recent Ponzi scheme and all three could face up to 20 years in state prison if convicted for the 22 felony charges, seven counts of grand theft, and 15 counts of securities fraud they face for this crime.

Barajas and Menefee are being held in the L.A. County Jail and are scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday, July 7.

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Cherie July 08, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Yes, we are breeding crime. People are so greedy it is sick. The entitlements are out of control. These monkeys work under the table and get food stamps or welfare on our dime. I remember when folks would get a helping had from a friend or the church.
too much August 01, 2011 at 02:56 AM
this is all bad thefact the eva was a president of a PTA even after shehad just gotten out of prison is disturbing people and schools should do more homework i as a parent had to get live scan just to participate in my kids school activities why is it that a felon can be a pres. Of the PTA really .... She tried to pull me in... Thank god i was a mom with not much mean and couldnt do it
too much August 01, 2011 at 03:00 AM
the one and only time i was glad not to have money to be taken as for the other mothers oh please they lived it up braces on there kids new cars great clothes for their kids obvisously and easy living tooooooo bd tht sit catches up with u a good thing is always too good to be true dont they teach u that in like 2 grade on anothr note the alta dena scheme int Disnyland ran by carnation milk not alta dena hellllllloooooo people why would u give ur money to sum one that is so dumb looking acting and speaking
Common Sense August 02, 2011 at 04:43 AM
You asked, "dont they teach u that in like 2 grade..." Well I ask, didn't they teach you punctuation? In second grade, we were already reading and writing proper English--already past: "See Spot. See Spot run." At least I was. What about you?
Common Sense August 02, 2011 at 04:45 AM
Oh, man! I just got to the end of your gem: "so dumb looking acting and speaking" WOW! ;)

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