By Bay City News
SAN JOSE (BCN) - A Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge on Wednesday raised the bail for an alleged female scam artist from Elk Grove to $1 million after hearing about more than $3 million in court judgments numerous victims won from her since 2007.
Judge Kenneth Shapero increased the bail for Samantha Pham, 30, from the previous $350,000, saying that "the safety of the community is at risk" in light of the alleged frauds described Wednesday by the prosecution.
Pham, whom prosecutors dub "the sweetheart swindler," is charged with ripping off a smitten elderly Campbell man of more than $273,000 in 2009 while asking him to call her "honey" and referring to him as her fiance to others.
The defendant, dressed in yellow and green prison garb, shook her head as she left the courtroom following the bail proceeding at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.
Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourland told the judge on Wednesday that Pham used $50,000 of the Campbell man's money to settle a 2009 fraud case in Las Vegas, where Pham allegedly wrote $50,000 in bad checks at the Planet Hollywood casino.
Bourland presented the judge with information on more than $3 million won in civil court by people, mostly elderly, who claimed Pham defrauded them in Sacramento County since 2007.
"(Pham) is a threat to the community, particularly to the elders," Bourland told the judge while arguing for higher bail.
"It kills these elders," Bourland said. "We need to protect them from this predator."
In most cases, Pham would lure senior victims to refinance their homes at low interest rates, then convince them to invest their money into her company or loan it to her and never give their funds back, Bourland said.
In one case from 2007, a judge in Sacramento awarded $2.7 million to an elderly woman from Citrus Heights, Calif., who lost money to a company owned by Pham called Fremont Investments and Loans that later closed down.
Another case involved Donald Wilson, a 75-year-old Sacramento man who won a $310,000 judgment against Pham after she wired $260,000 to a real estate investment company that later dissolved, Bourland said.
Other cases included loans from real estate deals that Pham allegedly did not repay, such as $150,000 lost by two elderly married couples, Bourland said.
Two other men complained of being bilked out of money from Pham, including one who purchased a BMW car for her and lost $40,000 in cash after meeting Pham on the dating site match.com, Bourland said.
Pham allegedly used up to 10 shell companies to "scam victims and launder money," Bourland said.
Pham's attorney Dennis Lampert tried to argue that the district attorney's office failed to serve him in a timely manner with an exhibit Bourland used during the bail hearing.
Lampert said the civil judgments against Pham were from loans she could no longer meet after her real estate business, which employed more than 30 people, collapsed during the national recession several years ago.
"My client had no part in these loans, none whatsoever," Lampert said.
Bail should not be increased because Pham is also taking care of a 15-year-old sister who suffers from autism who needs her, Lampert told the judge.
Bourland replied that Pham's brother had taken over caring for the girl.
The prosecutor, who asked that bail be set at $500,000, also said she feared that Pham might convince a new elderly victim to post the bail if it were set too low.
Shapero, citing the more than $3 million in judgments and the possibility she might be a flight risk if let out of jail, decided to increase Pham's bail to $1 million.
"The judge was outraged by (Pham's) conduct," Bourland said after the hearing.
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