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 6 of 7

The charming con woman then hit up Henry and Nenita Carandang, who run a real-estate business, as they were eating in a restaurant. They ultimately invested almost $120,000, and agreed to rent her a cubicle in their Hayward office for a new travel agency Beredo said she planned to open. Beredo decorated the cubicle with model airplanes and posters advertising trips to the Philippines, Africa, and Mexico, but never officially opened for business.

As usual, Beredo greased her new marks with gifts such as free airline and football tickets. The two families didn't know each other at the time, but later discovered that they had in essence paid for one another's treats. "She'd be giving you gifts using your own money," Henry Carandang sighs. "It's like you are being cooked in your own oil." Nenita Carandang says everything had seemed so promising that she'd been on the verge of telling her siblings to join Beredo's investment deal.

Then Ferdinand Abad made a troubling discovery. Beredo had loaned him the Mercedes to deliver tickets. She'd previously told him the car was a bonus from Philippine Airlines for being such a great saleswoman, but when he opened the glove box, he found the sales papers from De Guzman's dealership. It was clear the car was not a gift. Then came the bounced checks, outrageous credit card bills, and elusive behavior.

Abad knew that Beredo was cheating him and thought she had an accomplice -- Maria De Guzman. After all, World Destiny Travel was rented in her name, and her name was on the Mercedes documents. He strode, fuming, into De Guzman's dealership, where he accused her of being Beredo's partner. The two quickly realized they were victims of the same scam, and De Guzman told him everything she knew. Abad promptly went to the Fremont police authorities -- he figures that the evidence he provided must have been decisive, because the very next day the IRS arrested Beredo at home and raided her office.

"I went into the office at 8:30 to open it up," de Vora recalls. "Five minutes later, there is a knock on the door and six armed FBI and IRS agents in flak jackets walked through the door. The first thing they said is 'Are there any guns here?' The look on my face must have said everything, because they said, 'It's okay, calm down.'" As soon as de Vora caught her breath, she handed over the stack of evidence she'd carefully saved.

The con was finally over.

The next time any of Beredo's enemies saw her was at the federal courthouse in Oakland. The proceedings stretched on for a year, as her public defender sorted through sixty boxes of evidence and Beredo cooled her heels at Santa Rita Jail. In person, Beredo seems much younger than her booking photo, which shows a middle-aged woman with puffy eyes and a haggard look. Her face has filled out. Her dark hair, peroxided a brassy orange at the start of her incarceration, has grown out and is now only yellow at the tips. In court, she wore her bright-yellow prison-issue jumpsuit and denim jacket with the sleeves jauntily rolled up to the elbows, and her hair in French braids or perky little ponytails atop her head. Her behavior was girlish and demure. When she entered the courtroom, she would peer eagerly and shyly at the gallery, as if to see who had come to her surprise party.

Many had. Agent Braga and several of Beredo's victims could frequently be spotted in the audience. Some of the onlookers were there simply to gawk, others to see justice carried out. At Beredo's bail hearing, Henry Carandang remembers overhearing her tell her attorney that the audience was really there to urge her release so she could issue them their airline tickets. Carandang was so outraged he burst out yelling. "I couldn't control myself," he remembers. "I just stood up, and said, 'No, Your Honor! We are here not to ask for her release! We are victims!'" Judge Wayne Brazil later remarked that in his more than eighteen years on the bench, he had never seen a courtroom full of people assemble to demand that he keep someone in jail. He called Beredo a "relentless liar" who seemed "incapable of honesty" and had "quite a facility with fake documents." If released, the judge reasoned, Beredo could easily con a new investor, get some money quickly, then "write her own passport and her own airplane ticket and she's gone. To anywhere! Tahiti! Iceland!" With that, he denied her bail.

Beredo pled guilty on all counts -- which included charges of money laundering, credit card fraud, and wire fraud. At her sentencing last month, the con woman mostly remained quiet. She offered a few words of apology and meekly accepted her prison term of 57 months, which will likely be followed by deportation to serve time for her offenses in the Philippines. Public defender Joyce Leavitt would say only this on behalf of her client: "Ms. Beredo has made some bad decisions and I know she deeply regrets what she's done."

Her victims doubt it. "She will do it again," Nenita Carandang says firmly. "That's all she knows how to do." Just as bad, they say, maybe she'll just retire on their money. "In the Philippines there is really no justice like here in the United States. She can get away with a lot over there," De Guzman says. "Maybe all the money she took from people is there, so she can really have a good life over there."

Nobody, after all, can figure out where the money went. The judge ordered Beredo to pay $2.5 million in restitution, but the IRS dredged up only $17,000 to be divided among the victims. After all of their efforts, most of Beredo's investors will reclaim only a few hundred dollars. Not only that, many now must contend with damaged credit, delinquent loans, bills their credit card companies won't forgive, and higher mortgage payments. Even the IRS lost the $10,000 it sent in with the undercover agent.

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