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Sacramento -- Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that prosecutors from his office have filed grand theft, embezzlement and burglary charges against Maria Elna Flora, 59, of Sacramento, after she “fleeced” retirees out of almost $350,000 to pay for a daily gambling habit.
Flora was arrested yesterday by Yolo County law enforcement officials and is being held in Sacramento County Jail. Bail has been set at $400,000. Flora is scheduled to be arraigned on June 22. If convicted on all charges, she could spend more than 30 years in prison.
The case is a product of an investigation by the California Department of Insurance, with assistance from the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.
“Maria Elna Flora fleeced retirees out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by getting them to shift their life savings into sham real estate investments,” Brown said. “Flora stole thousands from retirees and gambled it away playing the slots at the local casino.”
Flora, a licensed life insurance agent, sold annuities to retirees looking for financial security. After completing legitimate annuity sales, Flora would offer additional investment opportunities, promising returns ranging from 10 to 20 percent. The funds, she said, would be used to make real estate loans to investors willing to pay high interest rates. In reality, none of the funds Flora collected were invested as promised.
From January 2005 through August 2007, Flora convinced at least ten individuals living in Butte, El Dorado, Sacramento, Solano, Stanislaus and Yolo counties to invest between $5,000 and $88,000. Flora encouraged investors, who ranged in age from 67 to 92 years old, to shift savings from life insurance policies, certificates of deposit and savings accounts, to her short term, high return investment. In total, retirees invested almost $350,000 with Flora.
In most of these cases, Flora made a few interest payments to investors and then stopped. When victims asked about the returns, Flora promised to pay at a later date, but never did.
In 2007, the California Department of Insurance initiated an investigation after Flora’s former employer filed a complaint. Earlier this year, the case was turned over to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office continued the investigation and then referred the case to Brown’s office because there were victims in at least five other California counties.
The investigation found that Flora used investors’ money to fund an expensive gambling habit which included almost daily slot play from January 2005 through August 2007 at Thunder Valley Casino.
Flora’s victims included:
• A 78-year old Placerville resident who invested $88,000;
• A 76-year old retired bookkeeper in Elk Grove who invested $50,000;
• An 85-year old retired education professional in West Sacramento who invested $47,000;
• A 71-year old Modesto resident who invested $45,000;
• An 83-year old Chico resident who invested $42,600;
• A 72-year old Woodland resident who invested $32,000;
• A 92-year old Vacaville resident who invested $20,000;
• An 80-year old retired department store employee in Citrus Heights who invested $10,000;
• A 73-year old Sacramento resident who invested $10,000; and
• A 67-year old West Sacramento resident who invested $5,000.
Yesterday, Brown filed 92 criminal charges against Flora in Sacramento County Superior Court for:
• Grand theft in violation of Section 487 of California’s Penal Code;
• Embezzlement from an elder or dependent adult in violation of Section 368 of California’s Penal Code; and
• Burglary in violation of Section 459 of California’s Penal Code.
Brown is committed to protecting Californians from financial scams. Earlier this month, Brown announced that agents from his office, working with law enforcement in Tennessee and Nevada, arrested two individuals for stealing millions of dollars through phony stock sales and an illegal pyramid scheme. Last month, Brown filed 79 criminal charges against three men who swindled thousands of individuals, including many retirees who lost their life savings, in a $200 million Ponzi scheme.
Copies of the felony complaint and arrest warrant affidavit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, are attached.