RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A Riverside man who billed himself as a "fortune teller" has been arrested after allegedly defrauding multiple victims, including one woman who ended up paying him more than $50,000 after he told her that she and her family were "cursed," authorities said Friday.
Andres Pena Meneses, 31, was booked on suspicion of grand theft and theft by false pretenses, both felonies, according to the Riverside Police Department. He was released after posting $57,000 bail.
The department's economic crimes unit launched an investigation this summer into a fortune teller business in the 3500 block of Arlington Avenue, police said in a news release.
"Detectives learned a female victim visited the business to have her fortune read," the statement said. "The suspect was described as a Colombian national who went by the name 'Carlos,' convinced the victim she had parasites in her body, to which she paid him several hundred dollars to clear her of."
The man later contacted the woman and "explained she and her family were cursed and he needed more money to rid her of it," authorities said. The victim ultimately paid "Carlos" more than $50,000 after he convinced her that her children were also in trouble.
Investigators identified the suspect as Meneses and learned that he had a prior arrest and conviction in late 2019 in Chicago for a similar fraud in which he portrayed himself as a "faith healer" and stole money from victims.
On Tuesday, a search warrant was served at Meneses' home and business in Riverside. Detectives found "a significant amount of cash, along with several items such as a voodoo doll, tarot cards, altars, religious and satanic type objects, and a small live snake that were used as part of the fraud Mr. Meneses was committing," the statement said.
According to police, several customers arrived at the business while the search was being conducted and told investigators that Meneses had instructed them to bring their bed mattress from home.
Meneses and his staff would allegedly "cut open the mattress and claim to have found the live snake inside with demonic type items and letters stating the victims' family was in danger," the news release said. The snake apparently was a small pet python whose carrying container was found inside the business during the search.
Authorities contacted other victims who said Meneses advertised his services on the radio. "He would tell them they were cursed and to pay him money in order to rid them of their ailments such as diabetes, headaches, sleep disorders, and nightmares," police said.
Detectives believe other people have been victimized by Meneses who have not yet come forward. Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact police Detective Cory Camp at (951) 353-7117 or CCamp@RiversideCA.gov.