LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A woman pleaded guilty Thursday to committing mail fraud in connection with a nearly $1.3 million scheme, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson for the District of Nevada.
Maria Jesus Luciano, 66, of Tampa, Florida, pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement to 11 counts of mail fraud.
According to court documents, Luciano resided in Las Vegas in 2010 to 2011. During that time period, Luciano befriended a man she met at the church they both attended. In 2011, she relocated to Tampa and maintained communication with the man. Luciano fraudulently represented to him that she had a pending settlement award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She told him that she would share the settlement award with him if he provided her money to pay fees, interest, and other costs related to obtaining the settlement award. Her representations where false. In fact, after a brief period of service, Luciano was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1971. She received monthly pension benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a non-military service related disability and was not entitled to any large monetary award or settlement.
In July 2013, Luciano mailed the man a fake promissory note granting him an interest in the purported settlement award. The man used his position as a controller at a large real estate investment business to embezzle and steal approximately $1.3 million from the business and its investors. He mailed Luciano numerous envelopes and packages containing the stolen money. Luciano used the money for gambling and personal expenses.
Sentencing is set for January 24, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Andrew P. Gordon. The maximum statutory penalty for mail fraud is 20 years in prison and a potential fine. In addition, she faces a criminal forfeiture money judgment of $1,298,748.56.
The case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from the Offices of Inspectors General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Burns is prosecuting the case.