ST. GEORGE — Nearly a year after a warrant was signed for her arrest, the first of two suspects was extradited from California and booked into Purgatory following an investigation into a fraud scheme that bilked eight individuals out of more than $70,000.
Rosa Munoz-Lainez was booked into jail shortly after noon Wednesday and faces four second-degree felony counts of communications fraud, along with three third-degree felony counts of the same offense, according to the affidavit filed in support of the warrant for the suspect’s arrest.
Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Crouse told St. George News that Munoz-Lainez was extradited from Riverside County, California, on a warrant out of Utah.
The extradition and arrest stems from an investigation that was set in motion in August 2019, when detectives were tasked with following up on a fraud report and met with three individuals who told officers it all started when each was befriended by a couple, Munoz-Lainez and her “husband,” William Bolanos-Vasques.
During the interview, officers learned there were several other individuals who were allegedly victimized by the pair.
To further the scheme, authorities allege, the suspects joined the church congregation that many individuals who were later defrauded attended, and the couple appeared to have targeted Hispanics based on similar cultural and religious beliefs.
The suspect told parishioners they were selling goods and services, specifically, vehicles, modular trailers and legal services geared towards immigration issues.
The reports states the suspects were “very convincing in how they led them all to believe they had the ability to sell/broker very good deals,” and they garnered the trust of several individuals, each of whom handed over large amounts of cash to Munoz-Lainez. For many victims, it was their entire savings.
The individuals also stayed in contact with Munoz-Lainez by phone and by text, but in the end, the suspects never followed through with providing any promised goods or services.
After relentless efforts to be paid back, a few were able to recuperate a portion of the money they turned over, but none were ever paid in full, while others never saw any of their cash returned. When the scam began to fall apart, both fled from St. George and moved to Provo.
According to the report, those affected by the fraud then got together to conduct their own investigation by posting details and information pertaining to the scam, which is when they learned the couple had allegedly committed this type of fraud in Las Vegas, Nevada, shortly before they relocated to Utah.
Several individuals then traveled to Provo on their own and discovered that Munoz-Lainez and her husband had once again joined a church congregation. Assuming the couple was going to perpetrate a similar scheme, the group alerted the pastor of the church, as well as the Provo Police Department.
At the time, the investigation in St. George was still underway, so no action was taken to apprehend the suspects once they moved to Provo.
During multiple meetings with police, accusers gave statements outlining how they had been defrauded by the suspects, including text messages that clearly showed, the officer noted, Munoz-Lainez advertising items for sale, and included photos of the items purportedly being sold. Additionally, the officer noted, the suspect was very convincing in explaining how she was in the process of providing the items to her customers as promised.
The text communications showed the victims’ efforts in following up with the suspect, as they demanded their money back and asked Munoz-Lainez for an explanation as to why she had not provided the items or services as promised.
Even though a number of individuals recuperated a small portion of the money they handed over to the suspects, “ultimately they are still owed large amounts of money,” the officer wrote
However, the officer also noted that all transactions were verbal only, and all proceeds were paid directly to the suspects in cash, except for one. Receipts were never given once the money was handed over, and only one individual was able to provide a bank statement showing cash withdrawals that went directly to the suspects.
“Unfortunately, the victims never signed any contracts or agreements,” the officer noted.
In all, eight individuals were allegedly scammed by the couple in St. George, but detectives have reason to believe there are potentially several other victims locally who have not come forward as of yet. Authorities have yet to determine if there are any other victims in Las Vegas or in Provo.
The scheme netted the couple more than $70,300 that was taken from the eight victims, not including the cash that was returned to a small number of the victims. Additionally, many of those seeking immigration services turned over birth certificates and other identifying information to the suspects.
Moreover, there were secondary losses sustained in the wake of the scam, including one woman who was left homeless after giving all of her savings to the suspects to purchase a modular home. There were also several others who were without transportation or their savings after each paid cash for the purchase of a vehicle, while another woman reported to officers that three of her children were also victims of identity theft following the incident.
Officers later received information the couple fled Utah altogether and returned to California, as well as learning that Munoz-Lainez was listed as an immigration fugitive being sought by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On Nov. 12, 2019, a $50,000 warrant for Munoz-Lainez’s arrest was signed by District Judge G. Michael Westfall. The suspect was later apprehended in Riverside County, California, and transported to Washington County and booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility where she remains on $50,000 bail.
No further information was available on Vasques, the second suspect.
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