‘Scam’ victims demand justice

Director Ed Sanchez of Gilroy Citizenship and Educational Programs, at left, and attorney Joseph Thompson walk through the ins and outs of the Sandoval case with approximately 20 Gilroyans, many who speak limited to no English, who all say she took their

GILROY—Crecencio Roque gave $10,000 to Gilroy businesswoman Leticia Sandoval to wire to his family in Mexico. Not one dollar arrived.
And now, with Sandoval behind bars and facing 14 felonies, Roque realizes he was duped.
He is not alone. His story was echoed by dozens of other Hispanic Gilroyans, many with limited or no English skills, at a meeting Monday hosted by an attorney and advocacy group helping them to cope and, hopefully, recoup some of the tens of thousands of dollars authorities believe Sandoval pocketed.
She was arrested in May and charged with grand theft, burglary and securities fraud; she conned hard-working people out of more than $250,000, prosecutors with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said.
If convicted as charged, Sandoval, 44, faces 20 years and four months in prison.
Her alleged victims want to recover any money they can. More importantly, many said, they want justice.
Sandoval allegedly threatened countersuits and worse against former clients if they took part in any action to recover lost money, victims said.
One woman said Sandoval threatened to have her and her family deported. Another said Sandoval threatened she’d report them as drug traffickers to federal authorities—simply because she’s an illegal immigrant whose income is paid in cash “under the table.”
And yet another woman, Alejandra, said her mother lost her life’s savings of $28,000 to Sandoval. She would not give her last name out of fear Sandoval would track down and punish her family, she said.
“I want to see justice,” said Alejandra, a Gilroy resident whose mother gave Sandoval the $28,000 to transfer to family members to buy a home in Mexico.
“She took money from really poor people, people who work in the fields and barely speak English, and it’s very sad. I don’t want her to be able to do the same thing to other people. I want her to be stopped,” she said.
In addition to the 20 victims at Monday’s meeting at the Gilroy Library, organizers said there are at least 30 more, some fearful that involvement in litigation will lead to consequences.
Complicating the matter is the fact that Sandoval filed for bankruptcy in federal court before her arrest.
That means that absent a Superior Court ruling in favor of the victims, all Sandoval’s debts, including those acquired through fraud or other crimes, will be cancelled if her bankruptcy goes through, attorney Joseph Thompson of Gilroy said.
Sandoval’s alleged victims face an uphill battle that could take three years before a 12-panel jury decides if any money should be returned, Thompson added.
“If her debts exceed her assets, creditors (victims of her alleged fraud) get nothing. It happens all the time,” said Thompson. “Welcome to American justice.”
Thompson and Ed Sanchez, director of Gilroy Citizenship and Educational Programs, hosted the meeting to discuss the facts of the case and inform victims of their rights.
Sanchez estimates Sandoval swindled $650,000 from as many as 55 people. While some gave money to the woman to send to Mexico, others fell victim to a “feel sorry for me” personality and ended up loaning her money.
Roque said that Sandoval told him his $10,000 would be transferred to Mexico in weekly, $625 installments.
“My family and I needed the money,” Roque said in Spanish through a translator, adding that he grapples now with depression.
“I feel very ill at ease because I’ve never been through something like this,” he said.
The alleged swindle was made more difficult with the unexpected death of his daughter. “I never thought this would happen to me,” Roque added. “It was a lot of trauma.”
Others who trusted Sandoval in the beginning now wonder what will happen to her.
“The thing she always did was make you feel sorry for her,” Alejandra said. “That way you’d say, ‘okay, you can do (the money transfer) later.’”
Victims described Sandoval as a woman who dressed modestly, “just like a normal person” and knew how to gain her clients’ trust. Clients would give her cash to transfer and in some cases she completed a portion of the transaction.
Part of Sandoval’s alleged scheme was promising she’d transfer the money when the peso exchange rate rose, which would benefit the client, according to victims and a March 18 Gilroy police report.
But Sandoval also would routinely beg for more money to send to Mexico, Alejandra said. When questioned about why her mother’s money wasn’t being sent as promised, Sandoval allegedly pretended to be sick at home or in the hospital and in need of money, according to Alejandra.
She recalled the businesswoman telling her she was under house arrest on orders of the police for being diagnosed with a case of measles, hospitalized with an unknown condition or dealing with the death of her dog, all excuses she allegedly explained prohibited her from transferring the money.
After months of not sending money as promised to Alejandra and her mother, Sandoval signed a contract saying she’d send the money in installments by a certain date, with interest.
“She never did,” said Alejandra. “That’s when we went to the police.”
Others also made reports at the Gilroy Police Department, after being spurred on by Sanchez with the Gilroy Citizenship and Educational Programs.
In an interview with police, Sandoval admitted feeling “choked by all the people she currently owed money too,” reads a March 18 police report obtained by the Dispatch. The woman told police that her clients gave her money to prop up her now defunct downtown flower shop called Creaciones Lety on the 7200 block of Monterey Street.
She told investigators there was no time constraint on when any money was to be transferred, but police replied that the victims “didn’t have the same understanding and wanted their money back.”
Prosecutors say a majority of the alleged theft was through “fraudulent investment schemes” where she promised to share profits through foreign currency exchange. Many people lost their life savings to her schemes, according to Deputy District Attorney Vishal Bathija.
Moving forward, the victims acknowledge the difficulty of recovering any money from the Gilroy woman. But they don’t want anyone else to fall prey to her.
“I’m pretty sure we’re not going to get the money back,” Alejandra said. “I told my mother that. I just want justice for the people. She took advantage of people who cannot defend themselves.”
Victims in the case have until July 6 to file a petition with the Superior Court, according to Thompson.

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