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3 Plead Not Guilty in Fraud Scheme

Three women suspected of theft, fraud and money laundering entered not-guilty pleas Thursday in connection with an alleged scheme to steal money from a Woodland Hills credit card processing firm.

U.S. Department of Defense employees Wanda McClain, 31, and Carolyn Deruso, 60, as well as Deruso’s daughter, Lelani Deruso, 31, a former U.S. Department of Treasury employee, were released on personal recognizance after arraignment in Van Nuys Municipal Court, officials said.

Lelani Deruso was ordered to return to court Jan. 12 for a preliminary hearing, officials said. McClain and Carolyn Deruso were also ordered to return to court on that date to schedule preliminary hearings.

Each woman was charged Wednesday by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office with one count of grand theft of personal property, fraudulent use of access cards, receiving stolen property, computer access and fraud, and money laundering, authorities said.

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On Thursday, M. Davidson Martin, agent in charge of the Defense Department’s criminal investigation, would not offer any further details on the elaborate scheme, citing an ongoing investigation.

If convicted, each woman could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in state prison and fined $20,000, the district attorney’s office said.

In the statement, authorities said Carolyn Deruso recruited McClain as part of a scheme to divert money from Superior Bank Card Services, a credit card processing company. Investigators allege that McClain allowed her personal bank account to be used to receive $31,000 from the company.

Investigators said Carolyn Deruso later recruited her daughter and attempted to use the younger woman’s account to divert $28,000 from the card processing company.

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Superior Bank Card Services processes point-of-sale credit card transactions for retail merchants and issues verification numbers allowing a sale.


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