Investment fraud suspects targeted Hispanic community

CARLSBAD — Local police nabbed their first suspects in a nine-year-old investment fraud case that has claimed 25 victims in San Diego County and parts of Southern California.
Investigators think there may be more victims in a scheme that targeted non-English speaking members of the Hispanic community with false promises of lucrative investment returns.
Carlsbad police arrested Alan Espiritu, 35, and Cesar Moreno, 40, at their residences on Tuesday for allegedly perpetrating a scam that involved the two men befriending their victims and convincing them to invest money in a phony development company called Permex.
The Carlsbad Police Department began investigating the case in May 2008, after a victim called the department to report a fraud. Thus far, victims have lost a total of $1.2 million and many lost their homes, police said in a release.
Espiritu and Moreno allegedly told victims that their company, Permex, guaranteed investment returns as high as 25 percent. Espiritu and Moreno would befriend their victims, often getting involved socially with their families. In exchange for their investment, victims received little or nothing in return.
Some victims were offered loan modifications and encouraged to stop making house payments and instead, invest those funds with Permex. Many victims lost not only their investments but also their homes.
“What makes this case so awful is that Espiritu and Moreno preyed on a vulnerable group of hard-working people who lived frugal lives, saving every dollar they could,” said Det. Patty Parra, the lead investigator in the case.
Espiritu and Moreno have been charged with numerous counts of grand theft as well as security fraud violations, and are in the Vista jail with bail set at $1 million each; arraignment was scheduled for Thursday afternoon in downtown San Diego.
Victims are from throughout San Diego County, including the communities of Fallbrook, Valley Center and Chula Vista, as well as other Southern California locations such as Temecula and the San Fernando Valley.
Investigators are seeking additional victims. Anyone who has lost money in their dealings with Permex or either of the suspects is asked to call Carlsbad Police Department at (760) 931-2294.
“This is a good time to remind people to be wary of any investment opportunity that they are approached with,” Parra said. “If something sounds too good to be true, you can guarantee that it is.”
Additional fraud prevention tips are available at www.carlsbadca.gov/crime-prevention.

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