8 years for woman who scammed employer, relatives, friends of $3.6M
Teresa Adamos Pereda victimized dozens of friends, relatives and members of her church and school communities by borrowing money she promised she would repay after receiving an inheritance, according to federal authorities.
When all was said and done, she had obtained $2,527,838 by falsely representing that she expected to receive a multimillion-dollar inheritance from an elderly couple from Hawaii. The inheritance did not exist. Neither did the elderly couple.
From January 2016 to November 2019, Pereda participated in an advance fee inheritance scheme and defrauded at least 36 victims, including family, friends, co-workers and members of the St. Paul Christian Church and St. Paul Christian School alumni, according to federal authorities.
In another scheme, Pereda wrote numerous checks to steal more than $1.1 million from her employer, a dental office, according to federal authorities.
Here are two earlier posts with details of Pereda’s dental embezzlement case
On Thursday, Pereda, 57, was sentenced to spend eight years in federal prison for the crimes.
Pereda’s attorney asked the judge to give her a lenient sentence, but the judge was not convinced.
“It’s hard to understand how someone could be trusted for almost three decades, befriended and helped through that period, and return that trust and friendship by stealing,” said District Court of Guam Senior Judge John Coughenour.
The judge said, “in both cases, the amount of money was stunning, frankly, to the victims of the inheritance scam” and to the dental clinic where she worked for years as an office manager.
“I have to tell you that nothing that I am going to do here today is going to bring comfort,” the judge said.
From January 2011 until her job termination in September 2019, Pereda stole $1,150,430 by writing 284 fraudulent checks from her employer’s checking account for her personal use.
To conceal the embezzlement scheme from her employer, Pereda falsified check stubs to make it appear the checks were issued for business purposes and falsely recorded the transactions in the company’s internal accounting system, according to federal authorities.
In the inheritance scam, Pereda promised the 36 friends and relatives she would repay them with more money than what she borrowed and provided some victims with bogus documents and seals from various United States government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the federal government.
Pereda sent more than $2.5 million to other co-schemers in the United States and foreign countries, according to the case against her. Two Nigerian citizens with Florida addresses and bank accounts were recently indicted in the same advance-fee inheritance scam.
“Pereda preyed upon the trust she gained with her employer, community, church, friends and family and defrauded them of their hard-earned money and retirement savings,” said Steven Merrill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office. “She caused the loss of millions of dollars by repeatedly lying that the payoff would come if her victims just gave more money.”
Coughenour was stunned by the length of time Pereda carried out the scam.
The judge described Pereda’s actions as an “abuse of trust and friendship … using religion to persuade people to give up hard-earned money.”
U.S. Public Defender Brianna Kottke asked the court to impose a sentence of home confinement or electronic monitoring to allow Pereda to begin paying back the money she had stolen.
Eight years of incarceration was handed down on the embezzlement charge.
For the inheritance scheme, Pereda was sentenced to five years in prison.
The two sentences are to run concurrently.
Before the sentence was handed down, Coughenour heard from Pereda and two of the victims.
Dr. Robert Gatewood, who owns the dental clinic, addressed the court: “I believe Teresa Adamos Pereda pretends to be of good, moral, ethical character. I believe she is not. I also believe she is a predator who preys off of human emotions.”
Pereda used some of the stolen money from the dental clinic in the inheritance scam.
Pereda, who was once a victim of the scam herself, became an accomplice in the inheritance scheme sometime in 2018, according to Kottke.
‘I was lied to’
“Family, friends, relatives and others, I was vulnerable, deceived, manipulated and I lied. I was lied to by professionals. Through my decisions, … you suffered great loss,” Pereda said as she apologized for her actions.
In tears, she accepted responsibility for the crimes and described her actions as terrible choices and irrational behavior.
“I accept responsibility for the crimes I committed and for causing hurt and pain to my family friends, St. Paul Church and school community and the island of Guam,” Pereda said. “I am deeply remorseful for my actions that have caused you hurt, anger, suffering and pain. We were family. We built an amazing history together and during this dark season in my life, I allowed fear, greed, selfishness to control my life, I am sorry for what I have done to hurt your family.”
Many of her victims are feeling the ripple effects and will continue to do so for years to come.
A cousin she swindled was in tears as she asked for Pereda’s sentence to match the crime.
“She knew what I was like; we grew up together. I really believe I became an easy target for her,” Pereda’s cousin said.
Pereda first approached her cousin in March 2019, at the time Pereda was deep in the inheritance scam.
The cousin said Pereda was “convincing, and is using God and making you feel like you’re doing a good thing.”
She apologized to Pereda’s mother for testifying against her cousin.
In addition to the prison sentence, Pereda was ordered to pay $2.5 million to the victims of the inheritance scam and $1.15 million to the dental clinic.
Pereda requested that she serve her time at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California.