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Ex-PTA moms charged in Ponzi scheme worth millions

(Left to right) Maricela Barajas, 41, Juliana Menefee, 50, and Eva Perez, 51, are charged with bilking nearly 40 people out of more than $1.5 million through a ponzi scheme.
July 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Three former local elementary school PTA members have been charged with running an alleged Ponzi scheme that bilked nearly 40 people out of millions of dollars.

Maricela Barajas, 41, and Juliana Menefee, 50, were arrested at their Diamond Bar homes Tuesday.

Eva Perez, 51, is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges connected to the alleged scheme.

All three women are charged with grand theft and securities fraud.

Prosecutors said the women earned the trust of their victims as members of the Parent-Teacher Association at Armstrong Elementary School in Diamond Bar, where investigators said they allegedly befriended their investors.

Authorities said the women claimed they had exclusive rights to sell Altadena dairy products at Disneyland and Disney hotels and promised returns of up to 100 percent.

"Initially, I believe they received over $14 million in cash and returned as much as $10,000. There's still an outstanding amount of $1.4 million that was not returned to the victims," said L.A. County Sheriff's Department Deputy Jeffrey Gordon.

The sheriff's department said most of the victims in this case are hard-working people, and some of them even took out second mortgages on their homes and invested their life savings in order to be a part of what they thought was a legitimate business venture.

Authorities said all of the transactions were done in cash, ranging from $5,000 to $208,000.

The sheriff's department said the Ponzi scheme unraveled when the suspects couldn't pay investors. Investigators said $2.5 million is still unaccounted for. The women may have spent the money on fancy cars and vacations.

Barajas, Menefee and Perez could face up to 20 years in prison if they're convicted on all of the 22 felony counts.

Barajas and Menefee were to be arraigned in court Wednesday, but the arraignment was continued until August 4. The pair is due back in court on July 13 for a bail review.


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