By Bay City News
SAN JOSE (BCN) - A woman charged with conning an elderly Campbell man out of more than $273,000 allegedly laundered money through her boyfriend's company and used some of it to pay restitution in a criminal case in Nevada, a Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney said.
Samantha Pham, 30, a native of Vietnam, flirted with the smitten elderly victim and told bank employees she was his fiancee to qualify him for a home loan and eventually pocket $200,000 from him, Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourland said.
"She would refer to him as her fiancee," the prosecutor said. "She was trying to push through this loan. He didn't understand what was happening."
Pham was a state-licensed mortgage broker in April 2009 when she "cold called" the man, then 69 years old, to get him to refinance a home he owned free and clear near Pollard Road and state Highway 85 in Campbell, Bourland said.
"It was a scam from the beginning," Bourland said.
After the loan went though, Pham allegedly convinced the man to invest $200,000 of it into a company, Western Financial, that she said was hers but was really a shell company run by her boyfriend in Elk Grove near Sacramento, Bourland said.
"We watched where the money went," Bourland said. "I think Samantha Pham was laundering her money through that corporation."
Pham then allegedly used almost $50,000 of the funds to pay restitution in a then-pending criminal case in Clark County, Nevada against Pham that was dismissed after the money was received, Bourland said.
The woman also persuaded the man to sign a lease for Pham's supposed new place of business in Elk Grove and then charge office furniture and a $73,000 Lexus car onto his credit card, Bourland said.
Later in 2009, the elderly man found he could no longer afford to make the mortgage payments on his three-bedroom, two bathroom house, and so Pham convinced him to sell the home, Bourland said.
The home, at 1566 Walters Ave. in Campbell, sold for $930,000 on Sept. 4, 2009, according to the real estate website Zillow.com.
After the home sold, Pham extracted $7,000 from the man in what she dubbed a referral fee, Bourland said.
The man ended up in bad financial shape, had to file for bankruptcy protection in September 2009 and Pham cut ties with him.
He contacted the Campbell Police Department and the investigation took some time in part because much of the case occurred in Elk Grove, Bourland said.
Campbell police investigators interviewed Pham's boyfriend, Peter Lai, who then notified the California Secretary of State's office that he was closing down Western Financial, Bourland said.
"We couldn't prove that he (Lai) knew what Samantha was doing," Bourland said. "There was not enough evidence to charge him."
Investigators learned that Pham had gambled and lost more than $1 million from the Red Hawk Casino in Shingle Springs between 2009 and 2012, based on casino records obtained by subpoena and a search warrant.
A man who repossesses cars told police that he repossessed the Lexus the elderly man had bought Pham and a $100,000 BMW car she once had, Bourland said.
Campbell police arrested Pham last Wednesday in her Elk Grove home where they found an assortment of pricey Louis Vuitton items, Bourland said.
Pham was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail on three felony counts of elder theft, which carry up to six years in prison for each count, and aggravated white collar crime enhancements and could tack on two to four more years, Bourland said.
She was arraigned on the charges last Friday in Superior Court at the Hall of Justice in San Jose and is due for another court appearance this Friday, Bourland said.
Pham's bail is $300,000 and a hold has been placed on it until she can prove that any bond she posts is not from cash she allegedly stole from the scam victim, Bourland said.
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