"Blessing scam" suspects convicted of swindling seniors in SF

May 31, 2013 7:13:27 PM PDT
A judge in San Francisco sentenced four thieves Friday. They're convicted of swindling Chinese seniors in what police call the "blessing scam."

The four were convicted by a jury on grand theft charges earlier this month. This is the second conviction the San Francisco District Attorney's Office has obtained on these fraud cases.

The judge allowed our cameras in his courtroom but ordered us not to show their faces.

The three Chinese women and their male accomplice followed proceedings in court through translators. They listened as the judge sentenced three of them to two years in county jail. The other will serve one year.

"The judge as well as the district attorney is sending a clear message to this type of behavior," San Francisco District Attorney spokesperson Alex Bastian said.

They were arrested last October at the farmers market on Alemany Boulevard.

They approached Susan Wong, who spoke exclusively to ABC7 News earlier this week. She said the women tried to befriend her, they chatted for a long time, then one of them said she was clairvoyant.

"Number three told me there's going to be calamity in my household," Wong said through an interpreter. "Your son is going to die in three days and my husband is going to get really ill."

The women said they could scare away the evil spirits if she gave them her jewelry and cash.

Instead, Wong went to police and led them to the thieves.

When they were arrested, police recovered $47,000 in cash stolen from another victim.

One of their defense lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that the women were poor villagers who were exploited by an organized crime group.

"They had difficult lives and there were certain pressures brought to bear upon them that caused them to get involved in this," defense attorney Richard Shikman said.

Prosecutors say this was not an isolated case. In fact, two of them still face charges in New York and Los Angeles for doing the same thing.

On Wednesday, the DA's office held a rally in Chinatown to warn Chinese seniors about the fraud. They handed out bags and brochures with phone numbers to call -- a DA hotline and 911.

SF Police Chief Greg Suhr wants to make sure there's no confusion as to which call to make first.

"The call has to go to 911 for an immediate response so we can catch these people," Chief Suhr said. "And then, certainly, it's always a good idea to follow up with the DA's office, but that should not be the first call."

These so-called "blessing scams" have occurred in other cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. And as we mentioned, two of the thieves sentenced Friday have charges pending elsewhere.

But San Francisco is the first city in the country to obtain convictions on these fraud cases.


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