One of the purported pastors of a storefront church in Corona that allegedly scammed immigrants out of thousands of dollars pleaded guilty last Thursday to theft charges, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Gerardo Bello, 21, of Mamaroneck, L.I., admitted to grand larceny in Queens Criminal Court, Brown said. Bello is likely to face between two and six years in state prison when he is sentenced Sept. 29, Brown said.
“The defendant is admittedly a con man who preyed upon the faithful of his church to unscrupulously exploit individuals new to this country — and who were in need of assistance — to steal their money and their hopes for a better life,” Brown said in a statement. “Ironically, in the end, it was prosecutors who did God’s work and brought the scheme to a halt.”
Another defendant in the case, Maria Gonzalez, 52, of Corona, pleaded guilty to grand larceny the week before Bello’s plea, the DA said. Gonzalez will forfeit $75,000 in cash found at her residence and make restitution of an additional $20,500 in return for a sentence of 40 days of community service and five years’ probation, Brown said.
Gonzalez is the sister of a third defendant, Mamaroneck resident Gregorio Gonzalez, 56, whose case is still pending, Brown said.
The defendants targeted immigrants, mostly from the borough’s Ecuadorian community, allegedly bilking them out of more than $50,000 by promising to help them expedite various immigration-related matters like U.S. visas and permanent immigration status.
The three allegedly met with the victims at various Queens locations, including their church, Iglesia Pentecostal Roca de Salvacion Eterna at 98-14 41st Ave. and Maria Gonzalez’s apartment, between April 2008 and October 2008, the DA said.
The defendants allegedly promised to get their victims U.S. visas and permanent immigration status for various fees, typically between $6,000 to $10,000, in the form of cash or personal checks, Brown said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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