A Texas couple face criminal charges after they were charged with impersonating federal officials and defrauding an elderly Los Alamos woman of $ 240,000.
Tiburcio Bazaldua, 67, and Diana Williams, 52, of San Antonio, Texas, have been charged with fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Los Alamos County District Court.
A woman contacted Los Alamos police in September 2020 and said she had lost $ 240,000 to phone fraudsters. She said she was instructed by people to send the money to “federal officials” who described a scenario where her identity was stolen and her money was used by cartels in Colombia.
The scammers also told her that a Toyota Corolla rented on her behalf was found near the New Mexico-Mexico border with a significant amount of blood and may have been involved in a murder, the warrant affidavit said.
Her health insurance and social security would be “disabled” unless she sent money to federal officials to “prove” to the government that she did not support cartels, she told police, the scammers said.
The woman phoned “several people who claimed to be federal officials or employees of the Treasury,” the affidavit read. A cashier’s check she mailed for $ 200,000 was delivered to Bazaldua and cashed later that month.
According to the affidavit, Los Alamos investigators received a recording from the San Antonio Police Department of a conversation between a credit union fraud investigator and the couple. They told the fraud investigator that the money was sent to them by “a relative”.
When questioned by the San Antonio Police Department, neither Bazaldua nor Williams could give a reason why the money was sent to them, why they withdrew the money, or how they knew the woman who sent it, says the affidavit.
Both said they cashed the check at a local credit union and later withdrew nearly $ 200,000. They also confirmed the address where the Los Alamos woman was instructed to mail the cashier’s check, the affidavit said.
“Both Bazaldua and Williams admitted to having been instructed to say certain things to circumvent the fraud investigator’s questions and suspicions,” it said.
The Los Alamos police could not be reached to comment on the investigation.
According to the FBI, New Mexicans over 60 lost just over $ 7 million in 2020 to elderly fraud. The agency defines these schemes according to several categories, including romance, sweepstakes or fraud with government imitation – the FBI takes the latter very seriously, said agency spokesman Frank Fisher.
“Federal agents will never call you asking for money or try to get you to send money or threaten arrest if you don’t send money,” he said. “That’s not how federal agents work. We’re asking people to hang up and call this federal agency and confirm whether or not that call was legitimate.
Fisher said there has been an increase in scams since the coronavirus pandemic began. He added that it is important to be skeptical of any offer that seems too good to be true and to report it immediately to the local police or the FBI if you think you have been betrayed.
“The sooner they report the scams, the better the chances of getting the money back,” he said. “And that’s why we ask family members who have older parents or grandparents or siblings to keep in touch with them.”