Catch Me If You Can 

After losing big to a Filipina swindler posing as a travel agent, her East Bay compatriots took matters into their own hands.

Page 5 of 7

Or at shopping. De Vora took phone calls from Beredo's personal shoppers and booked her hotel reservations. "She must have spent $4,000 or $5,000 a month on clothes, minimum," she says. "She had her hair done just about every day." She'd also visited Beredo's three-bedroom home in Fremont, decorated with designer furniture that had been purchased in layouts straight off the showroom floor.

Then there was Beredo's whirlwind romance with an American named David Grech, a manager for an auto insurance company. They married in early 2003 after knowing each other only a short while. De Vora recalls that around the time of the wedding, Beredo had been asking her questions about whether marrying somebody meant she'd get a new Social Security number, or if Grech would still be obliged to pay alimony to his ex-wife if he remarried.

Unbeknown to her betrothed, Beredo was still married to Edgar Beredo. Grech, who has since annulled the union, is reluctant to say much, except that it lasted less than a month and he now believes she married him to get her citizenship. During their marriage, he knew nothing of her investment scheme or her victims. "I'm sure I was just one sucker of a different version along the way," he says.

For de Vora, the final straw was seeing what looked like Beredo's distinctive handwriting on checks belonging to other people. "It was a bad feeling; to me, it looked like she was forging checks," de Vora says. So she began keeping a file of copies of documents that looked suspicious to her, just in case they would come in handy later.

Beredo's ploy had her flying high for at least five years, but the endgame was approaching. As angry investors pulled out and spread the word to other potential targets, the con began to lose its momentum. "That's probably what brings down the Ponzi scheme," Braga says. "It slows down the incoming money, and then no one gets paid." Beredo had approached three final sets of victims, who would provide the final evidence the feds needed to finally make an arrest.

It turned out Beredo's alias belonged to a real Maria De Guzman, who worked at a Mercedes dealership in Fremont. They'd met when Beredo had come into the dealership to ask about buying an E-Class, and then pitched her usual deal.

De Guzman invested $20,000 with Beredo, who returned two weeks later and used what De Guzman now suspects was her own money to put a down payment on the car. At Beredo's urging, De Guzman continued to invest, and in less than two months was in it for $80,000. "She works pretty fast," De Guzman recalls. "She likes to take money from people right away, because sooner or later you're gonna figure out what she does."

Beredo played the same game as she had with Soledad, going out of her way to befriend De Guzman. The con woman gave her gifts and took her to expensive restaurants. And, much as she had with Soledad, Beredo registered her World Destiny Travel under De Guzman's name as a show of good faith.

But the saleswoman quickly grew wary. Weird things kept happening; once, when Beredo called her at home, De Guzman's own name showed up on the caller ID. Beredo, she realized, had put her phone bill in De Guzman's name. De Guzman had authorized Beredo to use half a dozen of her credit cards for ticket purchases -- instead she ran up about $125,000 at places such as Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, and Macy's. Meanwhile, she began missing payments on the new Mercedes. Then, out of the blue, De Guzman received a phone call from Jun Arcilla, who had seen her name on an American Express bill at Beredo's house, and warned her to have nothing to do with Beredo.

Like Soledad, De Guzman remained friendly in an attempt to recover her investment. Shortly after she became disillusioned, however, she was contacted by Braga. De Guzman shared her story with the agent, then helped the investigators draw up an interior map of Beredo's house in preparation for an upcoming raid.

Beredo, meanwhile, had moved in on her last known victims, the Abads and the Carandangs, both Fremont couples. The Abads were approached by Beredo at a birthday party -- they both had daughters at the same elementary school. Ferdinand Abad, a kitchen supervisor at a nursing home, and his wife Donna had eagerly invested $400,000, hoping to use the profits to finance an addition to their house. Ferdinand even helped out at World Destiny Travel, delivering legitimate plane tickets to customers.

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