LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Three people who were previously charged in state court for allegedly running a lottery scam that targeted a Long Beach woman pleaded not guilty today to federal charges accusing them of scheming to bilk a half-dozen victims.
Mercedes Montanez, 68, Luisa Camargo, 38, and Tito Lozada, 49, are each charged with a federal count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. A fourth defendant, 43-year-old Maria Luisa Henao, is facing the same charge and pleaded not guilty last week.
All four are scheduled to return to federal court in Los Angeles on Jan. 14. They remain jailed without bond. Montanez, Camargo and Lozada each pleaded not guilty earlier this year in state court to one felony each of grand theft from an elder and grand theft of more than $950.
They were transferred from state to federal custody earlier this month when they were indicted by a federal grand jury.
The state case accused the trio of trying to scam 66-year-old Long Beach woman, but federal prosecutors contend all four defendants are linked to at least 11 incidents in which older women were targeted and robbed of cash and valuables in a scheme known as the "Latin Lotto Scam.''
According to prosecutors, the defendants would convince victims they had a winning lottery ticket but would have to pay a deposit or fee to actually collect the winnings. The federal complaint outlines alleged crimes involving six women, but prosecutors contend the four are linked to at least 11 incidents since 2017 in areas including Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro and Chula Vista.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. "This was an organized group that singled out older women for the sole purpose of ripping off thse vulnerable victims with bogus promises of a big payday,'' U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
"While law enforcement will do everything possible to bring criminals like this to justice, this case should serve as a reminder to potential victims and their family members that no one should ever pay an upfront fee in relation to any prize, sweepstakes or lottery.''