Socorro woman charged with forgery, fraud

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Veronica Sanchez of Socorro, a 44-year-old former employee of Courtesy Loans, has been ordered to appear in Socorro Magistrate Court on Feb. 16 to answer to charges that she falsified signatures and issued fictitious loans while working for the lending company in 2008.

A criminal complaint filed against Sanchez on Jan. 25 lists 10 counts of forgery allegedly committed between February and November 2008, and one third-degree felony count of fraud. However, more counts may be added to the charges, police said.

According to court documents, Socorro police have the files of 131 loan accounts opened by Sanchez while she was employed by the company, with missing and incomplete paperwork, discrepancies in signatures, or no payments ever recorded.

“It’s kind of like a Ponzi scheme,” Socorro Police Detective Richard Lopez said. “Basically, she’s accused of creating fraudulent loans to meet her quota and get bonuses — then creating more fraudulent loans to pay off the earlier ones, and so on.”

Lopez has been investigating the case since he was contacted by Zach Green, a Courtesy Loans auditor, in March 2009. Green told Lopez he’d been sent to Socorro by the company to perform an audit and had found some problems with Sanchez’s paperwork. Following the paper trail has taken some time.

“It took three years of working on it to be able to press charges,” Lopez said.

Part of the difficulty has been that the victims didn’t know their signatures had been forged, and therefore didn’t know to come forward. It’s taken a while for Lopez to locate them, and some can’t be contacted at all.

At least four people whose names were forged on loan documents are deceased. In three cases, Lopez was able to obtain death certificates or verify through the Social Security Administration that the victims had been dead for several years before their “loans” were ever issued.

While examining each of the 131 files, Lopez said he noted that a large number of the victims lived on the Alamo Navajo Reservation. In April 2009, he spoke with members of the Alamo Navajo Tribal Council and arranged to spend a day at the Chapter House to meet with people who might have had their signatures forged. He said he also arranged to have his presence announced on the reservation’s radio station.

According to the description of his investigation, only two people met with Lopez that day, neither of whom turned out to have had their signatures forged. Lopez indicated in his report that there could have been some misunderstanding about his reason for being there that made potential victims hesitant to speak with him. He left a list of names and asked that people on the list be asked to get in touch with him.

The report also describes a series of unsuccessful attempts to interview Sanchez, who had been let go by Courtesy Loans before Lopez was asked to investigate the matter. He finally interviewed her in September 2010. Sanchez allegedly admitted to forging the names of previous customers to create new loans and then creating more of them to pay toward delinquent accounts in order to meet her quota and receive bonuses. She told Lopez that she never took any money from the loans, but shifted it around to cover other loans, and that she learned the practice from a previous employee. She also implicated two other Courtesy Loan employees, alleging that they also engaged in the practice and signed off on fraudulent paperwork for each other.

During his investigation, Lopez interviewed both of the employees Sanchez accused of participating in the forgeries. Both said they had made complaints about Sanchez to their supervisor, who is also no longer with the company.

After going through all 131 files with Lopez, the criminal complaint states Sanchez allegedly identified 45 loans that she falsified by forging customer signatures. The smallest loan was for $200 plus $93 in finance charges; the largest was for $600 plus $218 in finance charges.

In total, the 45 loans added up to more than $13,000 and the finance charges added up to close to $6,000.

The felony fraud count listed in the charges filed against Sanchez is for $5,705.40 in finance charges. The figure does not include the loans.

The maximum penalty for a third-degree felony conviction is three years in prison and/or $5,000.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.