Couple indicted for witness tampering in $300K fraud case involving elderly Southern Utah widow

Composite image with background photo of 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, August 2019. Inset photos of Frank Powell, 51, and Faye Renteria, both of Hurricane, booking photos taken in Washington County, Utah, Nov. 25, 2019, Jul. 27, 2019 | Background photo by Cody Blowers; booking photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A couple has been indicted in federal court after authorities say they sent a letter to an elderly Southern Utah widow imploring her to stop prosecution of a fraud case they allegedly perpetrated against her.

Frank Gene Powell, 50, of Washington County, booking photo taken at San Joachin County Jail, French Camp, Calif., Oct. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the San Joachin County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

According to the federal indictment filed in U.S. District Court, 51-year-old Frank Powell and his girlfriend, Faye Renteria, 41, were each charged with one felony count of tampering with a witness, victim or informant.

Federal prosecutors allege that both Powell and Renteria engaged in a scheme to defraud the woman out of nearly $300,000. Powell used romance to defraud and manipulate the elderly woman into giving him money and assets, telling her “he intends to marry her,” according to the indictment.

The defendants were originally charged in 5th District Court in St. George, but federal authorities picked up the case after the FBI and Adult Probation and Parole reportedly became aware that they were attempting to persuade the elderly woman to help them avoid prosecution by withholding information from law enforcement.

State case goes federal  

The tampering charge was set in motion Nov. 7 when Powell called Renteria from prison and expressed frustration over her “lack of effort in fighting to get their assets back from police custody or other locations,” the indictment states.

He then instructed Renteria to go to the widow’s residence and remove three vehicles from the property and sell them before they could be seized and to hide assets derived during the alleged fraud scheme.

Two days later, authorities say Powell again called Renteria asking if she got the vehicles. Renteria initially told him she went to the home and spoke to a family member of the elderly woman and then said “someone else” took care of it. During the call, Powell also told Renteria that she should expect a letter from him that he wanted mailed to the widow and instructed Renteria to write “from Kari T” on the envelope.

The letter

On Nov. 14, authorities obtained the letter delivered to the widow from “Kari T,” a two-page handwritten letter to the elderly woman that contained multiple entries from different dates.

In the letter, Powell allegedly stated he is in custody and being investigated for defrauding the elderly woman, telling her he was “ just to court” and was charged with taking advantage of an older person.

He also wrote that authorities were “coming to get” him to take him back to prison in Utah “for money they told me I stole from you.”

“I don’t want them to try to take no one else to jail if you will help show the parole officer that he is just being lie to,” Powell allegedly wrote. “Please make everyone stop hurting my family … don’t let them hurt me.”

He allegedly asked her not to contact his parole officer and tell him of the letter, writing he “will get in trouble” and that his parole officer “don’t like me or my family.”

$300,000 fraud scheme 

Powell, who allegedly acted as the fraud’s ringleader, previously spent nearly three decades in prison for murder. After his release, he came into contact with the elderly woman in March when he knocked on her door and pointed out a number of areas that needed to be repaired on the exterior of her home, telling her that he and several of his employees could take care of the repairs.

Faye Renteria, 41, of St. George, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Oct. 10, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Over the course of several months, the group allegedly defrauded the widow out of nearly $300,000, the bulk of which was paid to the defendants for odd jobs and tasks that would cost “a few hundred dollars, if that,” according to the indictment.

In addition to financial fraud, Powell is accused of engaging in romance fraud by convincing the elderly woman to turn over the deed to her cabin in the Kolob area in Southern Utah, under the guise that he planned to marry her — despite the fact that Powell was already in a long-term relationship with Renteria.

Through the course of the investigation, officers learned that the group was staying in the cabin in Kolob, but when they arrived to arrest Powell and the others, the suspects were gone.

Agents would later learn that Frank Powell’s mother, 73-year-old Gloria Powell, tipped the group that agents were on their way, enabling them to flee before police arrived. She was arrested Oct. 16 and charged with one third-degree felony count of obstruction of justice and was booked into jail on $50,000 bail.

Four of the five suspects involved in the alleged scheme were arrested Oct. 10, including Renteria, who was apprehended after leaving the cabin when her vehicle was stopped by police, while Powell remained at large.

During an interview, police say Renteria admitted to being in a romantic relationship with Powell, that she was aware he was receiving payments from the elderly woman, which Renteria deposited into two accounts, and that she and Powell went on “extravagant shopping trips” with the other co-defendants. She also told investigators that she and Powell purchased a 2019 GMC Sierra valued at $82,000, along with a 2018 Chevy Camaro and a side-by-side Polaris Razor using money taken from the widow, according to the indictment.

Meanwhile, law enforcement tracked Powell to California where he was arrested Oct. 15 after crashing his car and fleeing from Lodi City Police officers. He was transported to San Joaquin County Jail and held in California until he was extradited back to Utah Monday.

Powell remains in custody, while Renteria posted bail shortly after her arrest last month and was released.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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