LOS ANGELES (KABC) --Authorities are searching for additional victims who may have fallen prey to a financial scheme aimed at the deaf community.
Hussein Ibrahaim Dheini, 37, is suspected of using American Sign Language to gain the trust of at least three people to steal nearly $500,000 from them.
The first victim, who suffered the largest financial loss, contacted police 10 days ago and said Dheini extorted money on the pretense of business loans.
The victim said Dheini, who is also deaf, never repaid the loans and continually pressured them for more money to the point of using duress, which caused the victim to become fearful and in turn raised the scheme from a con to robbery.
"On a visit to our home he actually assaulted my wife, and when I asked him why he did that he said, 'You know, it was for the money, frankly,'" said Hassan Dbouk, a victim.
Dbouk said he loaned Dheini about $20,000, and the suspect won his trust by asking for small loans at first and paying him back.
Paul Davis, another victim, said he is having to sell his home and his car to pay back some of the money he borrowed to loan to Dheini.
"He's a scammer on the degree of Bernie Madoff. He's the second Bernie Madoff, the deaf community's Bernie Madoff," he said.
Authorities said three people accused the suspect of theft, but they believe there could be more victims out there.
A search warrant was issued at Dheini's Northridge home Thursday in the 9400 block of Corbin Avenue. He was arrested on suspicion of robbery and booked in lieu of $50,000. During his interactions with police, Dheini showed a certification as an ASL interpreter.
Police said Dheini is a Lebanese national who is in the states on an expired student visa. He was expected to face a judge Friday morning during his arraignment.
"Con-men, like Dheini, count on victims feeling shame and embarrassment for falling for a scam," said Detective Tracey Angeles, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Robbery Table. "But we want to encourage any potential victim to come forward and reassure them that their naivete was merely a sign of their kindness and good nature."
Authorities want to encourage the public to seek advice from trusted friends, family members or finance professionals before entering into any large money transactions.
Anyone with more information on the incident was asked to call Angeles at (818) 374-7740. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.