SAN JOSE, Calif. --A 50-year-old woman was convicted Thursday of scamming more than $200,000 from San Jose landlords in a scheme that targeted the Vietnamese community, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said today.
A jury convicted Loan Nguyen, a San Jose resident, of 21 felonies following a five-and-a-half week trial, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Victor Chen said.
Nguyen had been charged with six counts of first-degree burglary, seven counts of grand theft by trick with allegations, two counts of dissuading a witness and six counts of passing a bad check with allegations, prosecutors said.
Nguyen has seven prior convictions, three of which are in Santa Clara County, and has a strike for first-degree burglary in 2014, according to Chen.
A dozen past and present victims, who were mostly first-generation immigrants, testified at the trial and all needed translators.
One woman had testified that her credit score was in the 800s and now she can't get approved for a credit card, Chen said.
A man had testified that he is bankrupt and supporting his wife who suffers from a disability, according to Chen.
The 50-year-old searched rooms for rent on classified ads posted in the local Vietnamese-language newspaper Thang Mo and contacted the landlords, Chen said.
She made arrangements to see the room, which resulted in the burglary charges because she had intent to commit theft once she entered the residence, Chen said.
Once Nguyen agreed to rent a room, she gave the owners "generous" checks, many of which were stolen from prior victims, then quickly asked them to withdraw the excess money and return it to her, according to Chen.
She fabricated "vague" stories to explain why she didn't have a bank account and needed the funds. In some cases, she claimed she needed to stay away from her abusive husband and didn't want him to find her, Chen said.
In other cases, Nguyen said she needed to help her brother, who had gone through something terrible such as being injured in an accident, according to Chen.
She stayed at each home for less than a week before she moved onto another place and simultaneously rented rooms at different homes, Chen said.
She took more than $100,000 from five victims between early November 2014 to late March 2015 before she was rearrested, Chen said.
There was evidence that Nguyen used Rohypnol, commonly known as the date rape drug, on the victims as a means to obtain the money, according to Chen.
Nguyen was not charged for giving them drugs due to the lack of sufficient evidence and toxicology results because the victims reported the crimes after the substance had left their system, Chen said.
Nguyen used the money to gamble at places such as Bay 101 Casino and Casino M8trix, spending $6,000 to $10,000 a day, according to Chen.
Nguyen was able to gain the victims' trust through shared life experiences of being Buddhist and relocating from a war-torn country to San Jose for a better life, according to Chen.
"She used that to her advantage by portraying herself as someone who had undergone similar obstacles and the victims let their guard down," Chen said.
The victims "wanted to help someone who was down on their luck," he said.
Many of the victims were living on less than $50,000 a year in Silicon Valley and supporting their children through four-year colleges. One woman had rented out her master bedroom to help her son through a master's program at the University of California at Los Angeles, according to Chen.
In one case, a woman lost $80,000 and owes money to multiple banks, Chen said.
"It's almost unfathomable how gullible these victims were," Chen said.
Many of the people Nguyen targeted were the "most vulnerable" and "least sophisticated" in handling their money, Chen said.
Some of the victims never wrote a check in their life, he said.
Nguyen faces a sentence of between 20 and 54 years in prison, Chen said.
Anyone who has information on a similar scheme is asked to call Chen at (408) 792-2665.