Federal agents Thursday arrested a Bronx woman on charges she lied to FBI officials about a fraudulent fundraising scheme in which she posed as a relative of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Prosecutors said Nouel Alba, 37, used her Facebook account, telephone calls and text messages to falsely claim to be the aunt of one shooting victim -- identified by a federal law enforcement source as Noah Pozner -- and solicit money for the child's "funeral fund."
When contacted by FBI agents investigating fundraising and charity scams related to the Newtown tragedy, Alba falsely told them she did not post information related to Newtown on Facebook, solicit donations or access her PayPal account, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Alba also falsely claimed to have immediately refunded any donations that she received, the complaint said.
"This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from this tragedy by contriving fraudulent schemes that exploit the many victims, their families and individuals who sincerely want to help," David B. Fein, U.S. attorney for the district of Connecticut, said in a statement. "Investigators continue to monitor the Internet to uncover other fundraising scams arising from this tragedy."
In one text message to a donor, Alba allegedly said she hugged President Barack Obama when he visited Newtown and described her fear of seeing her nephew in a coffin.
"11 gun shot in his little body," she wrote in the text message, according to the complaint.
Pozner's relatives last week told The Associated Press that someone they didn't know was soliciting donations in Noah's memory, claiming that they'd send cards, packages and money collected to his family. The person directed people to send donations to an address in the Bronx, one that the Pozners said they had never heard of.
Alba appeared in federal court in Hartford and was released on $50,000 bond. Before she was arrested, Alba said she "never sent any message on Facebook," according to an interview she gave NBC News. Her lawyer, Deirdre Murray, a federal public defender, was not available for comment Thursday.
If convicted of making false statements to federal agents, she faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The probe is ongoing and more charges are possible, prosecutors said.