A Valencia man who defrauded multiple victims out of at least $4 million through the use of forged checks and props was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday.
Edgardo Zeta Montalban, 70, pleaded guilty in federal court of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, a charge stemming from his confessed conspiracy between 2013-20 in which he posed as an accountant and tax preparer, falsified U.S. Treasury checks and used the promise of “major windfalls” to trick people into giving him money.
Prosecutors said that Montalban and his co-conspirators had used a “reloading scheme,” a process by which Montalban would ask his victims to give him a small amount of money up front in exchange for a large amount of money from a federal grant program.
However, according to the plea agreement he signed, he continually strung his victims along, saying there had been a newfound issue with each payment, requiring a new sum of money each time in order to solve the latest delay or problem.
He pleaded guilty to falsifying checks from a nonexistent federal grant program he called “Suppressed IRS Accounts,” and would only stop after having “bled his victims dry, or they realized they had been defrauded and stopped paying him,” according to sentencing documents filed by federal prosecutors.
The court specifically highlighted the “especially sad” story of Annabella Carolino, one of Montalban’s victims who he frauded out of $1.2 million over the course of three years.
“Ms. Carolino did not have that much money, however,” read the court documents about the case. “First, defendant took her life savings, including her inheritance and her late husband’s 401(k). Then, he ruined her business through loans she took out to pay defendant the additional sums he demanded as part of his fraud.”
Montalban would use the fake Treasury checks to trick Carolino into paying him larger sums of money, and eventually she was forced to borrow from her children.
“Ms. Carolino’s loved ones trusted her, and so lent her the money that she believed she desperately needed to make good her ‘investment’ with the defendant,” read the court documents. “Now, Ms. Carolino is not only ruined financially, but also emotionally, as she unwittingly defrauded those closest to her on behalf of defendant.”
Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr., in his sentencing of Montalban, said the man had “exploited human frailty” and was “despicable, cruel and callous” to his victims, causing “devastating effects on numerous victims.”
Prosecutors requested a sentencing of 120 months in prison, but Blumenfeld reduced it to 84 months after considering Montalban’s “significant health issues.”