Leader in Fraud Denies Bigamy

Times Staff Writer

An Arleta woman convicted of running a pyramid scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a new charge of bigamy.

Mercedes Navarrete, 55, who also used the last names Bolivar and Frederick, is accused of marrying Felix Navarrete in March 2000 without divorcing Richard Beebe, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Kraut. She is due back in court Feb. 27 for a pretrial hearing.

Mercedes Navarrete was expected to be sentenced Friday for her October conviction on multiple counts of grand theft, securities fraud and tax evasion. However, that sentencing may be delayed because her lawyer, Curtis Shaw, was arrested Tuesday in connection with a large interstate auto fraud scheme that allegedly staged accidents and filed false insurance claims, a D.A.'s spokesman said.

Navarrete was one of the ringleaders of the Panorama City-based La Luz de Oro, according to prosecutors. Victims were required to pay $75 to join a group and buy long-distance phone cards. In return, they were told they could earn free homes and cars if they persuaded others to join the group, prosecutors said.

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