The offer seemed incredible, Elvira Torres recalled Tuesday: Invest $15,000 and, in just a few short months, receive $30,000 back.
So Torres and her husband, Fidel, scraped together the $15,000--and rounded up $30,000 more from seven sisters and friends--handing it over to Rosalba Chavez, an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, who said it would be invested in distressed properties by a mysterious woman in Hollywood.
“We wanted to buy a better house,” said Elvira Torres, 31, a Bell Gardens housewife. “But we lost everything instead.”
Chavez, 27, of Los Angeles, was sentenced Tuesday to six years in state prison by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David A. Horowitz, who had found her guilty on 35 counts of grand theft and bad check writing in which at least 28 victims, mostly working-class Mexican immigrants, lost more than $1 million.
In passing sentence, Horowitz expressed frustration that he could not order Chavez to pay restitution in addition to the prison term.
Chavez faced up to 10 years behind bars, but the district attorney’s office agreed to seek six years maximum in return for Chavez waiving the right to a lengthy jury trial. Horowitz found Chavez--who said she had only earned commissions from the mystery woman--guilty, based mainly on the transcripts of a preliminary hearing.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Judy Gray said after sentencing that it appears that both the distressed property and the mystery woman--who Chavez on different occasions said was named Maria De Lucia or Maria Hernandez--never existed. Most of the money, the prosecutor added, is apparently gone.
Gray noted that Chavez, who had previously worked as a restaurant cashier and baby sitter, began driving a new Mercedes-Benz once she began collecting the investments in late 1982.
Chavez’s court-appointed attorney, Paul Horgan, said that, although he was unable to produce the mystery woman in court, “I frankly can’t believe this woman (Chavez), with her background, could have been the investor.”
‘Seems Too Good’
According to Gray, the case showed that “if a deal seems too good, it probably is--and don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.”
Manuel Camacho, who owns rental properties, agreed.
The 61-year-old Los Angeles man said he borrowed money on a credit card and on his daughter’s property to invest with Chavez. He lost $133,000 and his elderly sister lost more than $100,000.
Camacho, who said Chavez was “very, very convincing,” is suing the woman in civil court for the return of his investment.