Hoping to recoup victims’ money, a search has begun for dozens of people scammed in Gilroy by an undocumented immigrant imprisoned for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from other Mexican immigrants.
And the lawyer asking the Santa Clara County Superior Court in a Dec. 6 hearing at 9 a.m. in San Jose to declare the matter a class action case is also suing members of the convicted felon’s family and big companies, saying the latter were “reckless” in allowing Leticia Ramona Sandoval Gonzalez to make wire transfers of money on their behalf and are equally liable for the victims’ losses.
“Right now there are 11 plaintiffs who lost money due to her misconduct,” said Gilroy attorney Joseph P. Thompson. “There are 59 people who aren’t represented in the suit; how would they ever recover their money?” he asked, citing the defendant’s own records that show money was taken from 70 victims who believed it was being sent to relatives in Mexico or was being invested.
“If [we] don’t get these people brought into the case they will be cut off and will not have a remedy” due to the statute of limitations, Thompson said.
He is taking out newspaper ads in an attempt to locate the other victims. All of them are named in the civil suit, but Thompson said he fears they have left the area.
Of the named plaintiffs, all but one are from Gilroy.
Known locally as Leticia Sandoval, the former owner of Creaciones Lety on Monterey Street in downtown Gilroy was sentenced earlier this year to six years in state prison after pleading guilty to fraud.
The initial recommendation was for 24 years, but she made a deal with the District Attorney’s office, according to Thompson and news reports.
Most, if not all, of her victims were Mexican immigrants, and Sandoval, then a Gilroy resident, was herself in the U.S. illegally and will be deported after serving her sentence, according to Thompson.
Some victims lost their entire life savings and individual losses reached into the tens of thousands of dollars, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.
In cases such as this the “class” of victims is required by law to have a representative who coordinates on its behalf. If the judge grants the class action motion, the representative will be Gilroy Citizenship/Educational Programs, a nonprofit that helps the South County’s immigrant community.
Its head, Ed Sanchez, also believes it will be difficult to find other victims willing to come forward.
“In some cases [Sandoval] threatened to turn them into immigration and others she threatened that she had connections with gang members, so many of them just shied away. It’s unbelievable what this lady would tell her clients,” he said.
Sanchez praised the plaintiff’s attorney. “I can’t speak highly enough of Joe Thompson, that guy has worked really hard in tracking down the companies that employed her and hopefully will make them pay the money she cheated the people out of; he is a light in the darkness,” Sanchez said.
After numerous complaints and reports in the Dispatch last year of the plight of alleged victims, the DA charged Sandoval with fraud involving phony wire transfers and bogus investment schemes, all designed to steal clients’ money.
Sandoval attempted to dodge liability for as much as $1 million owed in restitution, according to Thompson, but he petitioned the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and it ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and denied Sandoval’s request to declare bankruptcy, he said.
Still, she was found to have no assets and debts in excess of $1.5 million, according to court documents filed by Thompson in the case.
Now, using a legal concept dating back to the Roman Empire called “agency liability,” Thompson in his most recent court filing claims that companies on whose behalf Sandoval offered the wire transfers are liable for her actions and for his clients’ losses.
Under that concept, the liability for wrongdoing is shared when a person, or agent, acts on behalf of another person or company, the principal. In the Sandoval case, that means the wire transfer companies she represented are liable, according to Thompson.
He likened it to a company being liable for civil damages if one of its drivers kills a person in a vehicle accident.
The companies named by Thompson as “reckless in employing” Sandoval and others allegedly involved with her, and therefore liable, are Intermex, Giromex, Viamericas, Order Express and First Global.
Other individuals named in Thompson’s documents as involved with Sandoval are Daniel Sandoval, Juventina Marquez, Felipe Villamares, Maria Barajas and Alejandra Valladares.