Three people were charged Monday with stealing more than $1,800 from a 66-year-old woman in a lottery scam targeting elderly women across Long Beach, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
Mercedes Montanez, 68, Luisa Camargo, 38, and Tito Lozada, 49, were all charged with a felony count each of grand theft from an elder and grand theft of more than $950. If convicted as charged, all three face a possible maximum sentence of four years in state prison, authorities said.
Montanez approached the victim on a street in Long Beach on Sept. 26, and told her that she had a winning lottery ticket, but needed to pay $15,000 to collect the winnings, the Attorney’s Office said. She then told the victim that if she helped pay the fee, she would give her a portion of the lottery winnings.
To convince the victim, Camargo then approached and pretended to be another person contributing cash to help pay the fee, while Lozada posed as a lottery official who validated the ticket, the Attorney’s Office said.
The trio took the victim back to her home and then to a bank to get the cash, before they dropped her off at a location where she was supposed to “await further instructions,” the Attorney’s Office said.
Police officers who had been surveilling the crew arrested all three later that day.
The Los Angeles Police Department described the trio’s scheme as a complex “Latin Lotto scam” that they had been keeping tabs on for days.
The trio traveled through neighborhoods in Long Beach for hours, looking for elderly Hispanic women who were walking alone and then approach them for the scam. Lozada would usually remain out of sight to act as the lottery commissioner on the phone, LAPD said.
Officers watched them going through cities including Pacoima, North Hollywood, San Fernando, El Monte and Ontario, searching for the victims and then approaching them.
The suspects would try to convince victims to retrieve money and jewelry from their house or from a bank as “good faith” money to get the ticket, then find a ruse to get the victim out of their vehicle and drive away with the money, police said.
“This scam is purposely complicated, designed to keep the victim confused until they can talk her into retrieving money or jewelry to get the ‘big winnings,’ from which the victim is promised to make a large sum of money,” LAPD said.
Lozada is also suspected in another lotto scam in San Diego, where a victim was held against her will in a vehicle, according to police.
The prosecutor in the case recommended setting bail at $250,000 for each of the defendants.
“It is highly likely there are more victims of their scam that we have not yet identified,” police said. It’s unclear how many other victims have already been identified by investigators.
The case is under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Anyone with information was urged to contact Detective Carol Mosher at 213- 486-6963.