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Man arrested for setting fake donation boxes

December 31, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A man was arrested for setting up phony donation boxes at stores and restaurants in the Antelope Valley.Authorities say he was raising money for the funerals of children who were still alive.

A woman saw one of the collection boxes with pictures of her two daughters on it. She immediately called sheriff's deputies who arrested the suspect, who already has a criminal record that includes identity theft.

Who wouldn't be touched by a heartwarming picture of two sisters and a message tells a tragic story stating that Sandra and Lupita died in an accident and her uncle is asking for money to bury them? Except that's not their real names and the story is made up. Investigators say it was all a scam.

"It's very, very sad that an individual would take advantage of people's generosity to get to their sympathy," said Sgt. Vincent Burton of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriffs say Saul Lopez, also known as Joel Perez, told them he found the picture of the two girls and got the idea to make up the story of their deaths to get charitable donations. He put together a number of collection boxes and placed one at a Vallarta Supermarket. It worked until one day, the girl's parents were stunned to see the picture.

"The father and the mother recognized them, and thought hey this is my daughters. This is my picture of them. Even though it is a two-year old picture of them, it's still my daughters, and they're alive and they're at home and they're well and we don't know what's going on," explained Burton.

When the suspect went to pick up the box of money, he was arrested. He had placed boxes in other places. At Mi Ranchito restaurant, it was right next to the cash register.

"He just said that he had some people that died, and he wanted to put the box so he could get money to bury them and stuff. But he always came here and ate and he looked like he seemed like a good guy," described Fernando Maldonado, an employee at the restaurant.

At the Vallarta Supermarket, shoppers were outraged. People remember seeing the boxes, and they were upset that allegedly it was all a lie.

"That had to be a sick person to do something like that," said Byron Donato of Palmdale.

The suspect is in jail, and officials say his bail is set at $185,000.