Three members of the Parent Teacher Association at Armstrong Elementary School in central California are in custody after they were arrested for allegedly operating an elaborate Ponzi scheme in which victims are suspected of losing nearly $3 million. The three women - Marciela Barajas (aka Marciela Torres), 41, Juliana Menefee, 50, and Eva Perez, 51 - were arrested on multiple state felony charges, including seven counts of grand theft and fifteen counts of securities fraud.
According to police, investors were approached at social functions and school events under the ruse that the three women had the exclusive rights to sell AltaDena dairy products at small retailers and Disneyland. Promising annual returns exceeding 100%, unwitting investors were convinced to fund their investments with second mortgages on their homes and maxing out credit cards. In total, police say the three women raised over $14 million in the scheme. Of the $14 million, $10 million was returned as payments to investors, while $1.5 million has been confirmed as losses. Approximately $2.5 million remains unaccounted for, with police speculating that the three women used the amount for luxury items and travel. According to a local news site, nearly 40 victims invested amounts ranging from $5,000 to $208,000.
Two of the women, Barajas and Menefee, are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, July 7. The remaining woman, Perez, incidentally, is already in jail after after pleading guilty in 2010 to a similar scheme. In addition to serving her current 11-year sentence, Perez is expected to face new charges for her role in this scheme. The arrests came with the culmination of a six-month fraud investigation conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Commercial Crime Bureau. It is unknown whether the women will face federal charges as well.