EXCLUSIVE – Criminal Complaint Concerning Fraudulent Email Diverting Escrow Deposits

Rachel Dollar —  February 15, 2017 — Leave a comment

Cristina Montijo was the subject of a complaint and arrest warrant issued in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with fraudulent emails.  She was arrested in the Southern District of California.

According to the complaint, sworn to by a Detective with the New York City Police Department for the purpose of demonstrating probable cause for the issuance of the arrest warrant, on or about June 21, 2016 Victim-1 who was in the process of purchasing a home, received an email that purported to be from Victim-1’s attorney.  The fraudulent email instructed Victim-1 to wire $190,000 to a bank account at a San Diego Credit Union to be held in escrow for the home purchase.  A copy of the residential purchase contract for the property that Victim-1 was purchasing was included in the email. Victim-1 wired the money and then called the real estate attorney to confirm receipt of the wire and was told that the attorney had not requested the wire.  Victim-1 realized that the email address on the email received differed from the real estate attorney’s true email address by one character.  Victim-1 recalled the wire.

Victim-1 later received another email from the incorrect email address.  The new fraudulent email supplied an additional bank account number for Victim-1 to deposit funds into because the prior wire of funds had not been received.

According to the complaint, based on review of bank records, the detective learned that the bank account number in the first fraudulent email to Victim-1 was registered to Montijo.  The account was opened about June 16, 2016 and closed about June 23, 2016 due to suspected fraud.

The complaint also states that in or about November 3, 2015, Victim-2, an individual in Tennessee, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-2’s real estate agent directing Victim-2 to wire approximately $181,000 to a bank account.  Victim-2 later realized the email address was different by one character from that of the actual real estate agent.  Victim-2 became suspicious and, after contacting the real estate agent, did not wire the funds. That account was also registered to Montijo and was opened about October 3, 2015.

On about November 24, 2015, Victim-3, an individual in Hawaii, received emails purportedly from Victim-3’s escrow officer and real estate agent but which were different from the actual email addresses by one character.  Based on the directives in these fraudulent emails, Victim-3 wired approximately $331,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened on November 13, 2015, was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and was closed December 10, 2015 due to suspected fraud. Montijo was the sold registered agent of Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC and was registered to an address on Chamoune Avenue in San Diego at which Montijo resided since at least 1993. In November 2015, Montijo wired approximately $181,500 from that account to an account in Malaysia and approximately $118,200 to an account in South Africa.

In about April 2016, Victim-4, an individual in San Francisco, California, received a fraudulent email purporting to be from the real estate agent involved in a real estate transaction for Victim-4 and instructing Victim-4 to wire approximately $127,791 to be held in escrow in an identified bank account.  Victim-4 wired the funds and later discovered the email address was one character different from that of the real estate agent. That bank account was opened about March 31, 2016 and closed April 5, 2016 and was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC.

On about April 28, 2016, Victim-5 received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-5’s attorney. Victim-5 later learned the attorney’s email account had been compromised or hacked.  At the direction of the fraudulent emails, one of which referenced the sender’s “account secretary Christina Montijo who is a trustee to the trust account” (the fraudulent emails were later traced to an originating IP address in South Africa), Victim-5 wired approximately $250,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened about March 31, 2016 and closed about May 6 due to fraudulent activity, was registered to Montijo and Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC.   On about May 4, 2016, Montijo attempted to wire funds to another bank account that was jointly registered to Montijo and Albert Montijo (believed to be the name of Montijo’s deceased husband.)   Montijo was informed by bank employees that the wire was potentially fraudulent and Montijo claimed that she had been owed the funds from Victim-5 from a real estate transaction from several years prior and that she had business partners abroad.

On about June 30, 2016, Victim-6, an individual in the Southern District of New York, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-6’s attorney, later learning the attorney’s emails had been compromised or hacked.  Victim-6 wired approximately $240,000 to a bank account, again registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC. Montijo attempted to wire a portion of these funds to an entity called “Refunds LLC” purportedly for a “refund owed” but actually sent to an account in the name of “Reofunds LLC.”

Montijo registered a company called “All Cover LLC” in the state of California for the purpose of “buying/selling real estate” On about July 14, 2016, Montijo attempted to cash four checks made out to All Cover totaling approximately $46,500.  From discussions with representatives of the three companies that issued the checks, the detective states that he learned that the checks were fraudulent and not written out to All Cover.  The indictment details additional allegedly fraudulent checks that Montijo attempted to cash and which were made out to herself, Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and a person believe to be Montijo’s mother-in-law.

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Rachel Dollar

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