A Glen Cove woman was charged Wednesday with stealing more than $30,000 from immigrants from El Salvador by convincing them she would act as their "banker," Nassau prosecutors said.
Norma Espinoza, 37, was charged with three counts of third degree grand larceny, two counts of fourth degree grand larceny and a single count of first degree scheme to defraud, prosecutors said. Nassau District Court Judge Joseph Girardi set bail at $5,000 cash or bond. Espinoza's Legal Aid attorney could not be reached for comment.
Espinoza masterminded the scam under the guise of a savings club commonly known in the El Salvadoran community as a "Cuchubal," prosecutors said.
"This defendant is charged with taking the hard-earned money of immigrants by convincing them that the only way they could claim a small piece of the American dream was to participate in her savings club scheme," acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement.
Espinoza began the "Cuchubal" in 2012, asking a group of immigrants to make regular $200 weekly cash contributions to a common fund, which Espinoza agreed to maintain and disburse as a lump sum to each member on a rotating basis on a certain date, prosecutors said.
Espinoza, who acted as the "banker," enticed members of the El Salvadoran community to join the club by telling them because they were not in the country legally and didn't have Social Security numbers, they wouldn't be able to open bank accounts, prosecutors said. Each member of the group would contribute $200 in cash per week for one year. Then they would be assigned a month that they would be able to "withdraw" $10,400.
But when the time came for the members to "withdraw" their funds according to the schedule that Espinoza had given them, she gave excuses for not making the promised payments, prosecutors said. Two members were able to obtain a partial payment after they went to Espinoza's Glen Cove home and demanded full payment of the promised funds. Prosecutors said she has not refunded a total of $30,700. Eventually, some of the members reported Espinoza to Glen Cove police.
The arrest comes two days after Singas announced a new initiative to entice immigrants who are victims of crime and witnesses to crimes to report incidents to law enforcement.
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Singas, in her statement, added that the cash that she said was stolen by Espinoza is a "tremendous amount of money. This type of crime is precisely why I announced my office's new initiative to encourage immigrant victims and witnesses to work with law enforcement to help solve crimes against all Nassau County residents. Criminals who prey on the vulnerable will be prosecuted."
If convicted of the top charge, Espinoza faces 21/3 to 7 years in prison. She is due back in court Friday.