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 7 of 7

Some of the money was clearly cycled from one victim to the next as part of the scam. And some went to pay for Beredo's lifestyle. As for the rest, the victims have their theories: Beredo sent the cash back to the Philippines with her husband, who flew there with their children shortly after her arrest; or perhaps she salted it away in trust accounts for her daughters. Maybe she had an accomplice who worked at a bank who hid it in a secret account for her; then again, she might have gambled it away during frequent trips to Las Vegas and Reno.

The most popular theory, however, is that she simply spent it all. As de Vora puts it, despite Beredo's illusion of wealth, "she lived from day to day, week to week. She was always on the search for one dime to cover the next dime. There is no cache of money."

Special Agent Braga says she hopes the victims will find solace in knowing Beredo can't continue her scam; the Beredo-investigation clubs have now morphed into something more like support groups. "I guess it's part of the healing process to be in touch with each other and have some type of closure," Braga says.

The Carandangs and Abads, now friends, are considering a civil suit, not that it would get them anything. The Carandangs still keep Beredo's cubicle in their office as a sort of tongue-in-cheek memorial to their loss. But Henry Carandang concedes that what they all really need to do is move on. "If you don't go back to your normal life," he says, "you'll go crazy."

There are some victims who believe Beredo is actually crazy, a compulsive liar with no conscience or empathy. Others think that she is simply very, very clever. Regardless, she remains something of a contradiction, a woman who lived at the center of a vast network of people and yet was so totally alone -- as she is now.

On a late April morning, Beredo gets out of her cell for a jailhouse interview deep in a wing of Santa Rita that is painted a garish pink. She is reluctant to discuss certain topics without first consulting her lawyer, but she's clearly happy to have some company and chat about the less controversial aspects of her life. She boasts of having graduated with honors in communications at Far Eastern University, and says she worked as a television newscaster and then as a flight attendant for Philippine Airlines. She's never been in trouble with the law before, Beredo adds. Given this bit of fiction, you can take the rest with a grain of salt.

Beredo claims she'd planned to pay investors back eventually, but they were too skittish. "Probably the bad thing I did is all my investors are not businesspeople," she says. "They are not used to taking risks. They're not really investors, so I don't blame them." It is counterproductive for her to be in jail, she says, when she could be out earning back people's money. "I told them, which do you want, to see me in jail or for me to continue working?" she says.

When she does get out, she says, she hopes to go into publishing or advertising. Her dream, she notes, has always been to work for an advertising agency -- she wants to be someone else's employee now. No more running her own business. "I always have Plan A and Plan B," she says. "I know for sure that I have something to look forward to." She seems oblivious to the fact that she'll likely be sent to serve more time in the Philippines.

Does she have anything to say to her investors? "I am deeply distressed and so very sorry for my actions, and I hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me," Beredo replies in a contrite tone. "I can assure them I have learned greatly and can live up to my full potential after this experience."

Time's up, and a guard comes to return Beredo to her cell. With the same sincere tone, she promises to confer with her attorney and then call the next morning to discuss the more intricate details of her investment scheme.

The next morning I wait by the phone. There is no call. There will never be a call. Even behind the electronically gated walls of Santa Rita, Beredo has slipped away once again. Like so many of her victims, I am left waiting for a payout that never comes.

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