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Pair Pleads Today in Massive Ponzi Scheme in Los Angeles County

POMONA – Two Diamond Bar women charged with defrauding seven people out nearly $600,000 pleaded no contest today and were immediately sentenced to three years in county jail and ordered to repay the victims, the District Attorney’s office announced.

Maricela Barajas, 42, whose true name is Maricela Torres, pleaded no contest to seven counts of securities fraud and was sentenced by Pomona Superior Court Judge Mike Camacho to three years in state prison, to be served in county jail, said Deputy District Attorney James Belna of the Major Fraud Division.

Juliana Celeste Menefee, 51, also pleaded no contest to seven counts of securities fraud, but her case was heard in a different courtroom. She was sentenced by Pomona Superior Court Commissioner Wade Olson to three years in state prison, to be served in county jail.

Belna said both women were ordered to pay a total of $590,000, or nearly $300,000 each, to the same seven victims whom they defrauded.

Belna said Torres and Menefee, along with co-defendant Eva Perez, 52, told victims they were investing in a contract with the Alta Dena Dairy to sell milk exclusively to Disneyland.

More than 30 people from throughout Los Angeles County invested between $2,000 to $100,000 with the three women and were promised extraordinary rates of return, Belna said. The three ran the large-scale Ponzi scheme between June 2008 to August 2010.

Perez, who’s serving a 10-year state prison sentence after pleading guilty in San Bernardino County court in 2010 to the same scheme, pleaded no contest on April 19 to seven counts of securities fraud and one count of using a device to defraud. She was sentenced by Commissioner Olson to three years in state prison, to be served consecutively with her current prison sentence.

Belna said Perez, the ringleader, was ordered to repay $1,037,225 in restitution.
–Source Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office

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