HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — In the two weeks since the Newtown massacre shocked the world, scam artists have moved in to prey on the human tragedy.
Federal authorities said one such scam was perpetrated by a New York City woman, who was arrested Thursday after being accused of trying to swindle donors by posing as a relative of one of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Extra: Read The Complaint (.pdf)
Nouel Alba, 37, was charged with lying to FBI agents.
WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports
Alba covered her face and scurried out of court in Hartford. She said nothing about the FBI’s allegations that she set up an Internet money-grabbing scheme just hours after the shooting rampage.
Federal prosecutors said she used her Facebook and PayPal accounts along with telephone calls and text messages to seek donations for what she called a “funeral fund.”
Prosecutors said Alba, posing as “Victorian Glam Fairys” (cq), identified herself as the aunt of Noah Pozner, who was gunned down in the school shooting.
“We’ve set up a funeral fund for my brother and families. Anyone willing to make a donation can make one,” prosecutors said Alba wrote before giving instructions about how to donate through PayPal or direct deposit.
Alba allegedly spoke with a donor over the phone, and claimed to have visited Sandy Hook Elementary School to identify her “nephew.”
“Said that she had gone to the school and entered the crime scene to identify her nephew for law enforcement, that she had been at the high school when President Obama visited,” U.S. Attorney David Fein told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Alba is even accused of sending elaborate text messages to another donor who fell for the scam.
“Ima mess. Not looking forward to see that casket cause that is what will kill us all today. 11 gun shot in his little body….,” the texts allegedly read.
Authorities said Alba denied seeking the donations when FBI agents investigating charity scams related to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown contacted her.
The FBI said four days after the Sandy Hook tragedy, all of the money was refunded to the scammed donors via PayPal. However, Alba denies opening that account and even said someone hacked into her Facebook page.
Neighbors also said they were shocked by the allegations, saying there was no indication Alba needed money or that she would pull off such a scam.
“She’s a nice person, she’s a very nice person — takes care of her kids. She goes to work,” neighbor Evelyn Montanez told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
Another neighbor who spoke with 1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer said she doesn’t believe the charges.
1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer Speaks With A Neighbor
“She said earlier that somebody stole her identity. So maybe it was that person,” that neighbor said. “She loves her children to death and if she would lose any of them, she wouldn’t take advantage of other people.”
However, federal authorities said they tracked the IP addresses used in the alleged scam and they come back to Alba.
“It is unconscionable to think that the families of the victims in Newtown, and a sympathetic community looking to provide them some sort of financial support and comfort, have become the targets of criminals,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz.
“This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from this tragedy by contriving fraudulent schemes that exploit the many victims, their families and individuals who sincerely want to help,” Fein added.
Alba was released on $50,000 bond. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and a potential $250,000 fine.
The FBI is still investigating Alba and other charges could still come, CBS 2’s Schneider reported. The U.S. Attorney in Connecticut is also investigating other possible scams associated with the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Anyone with any information about Newtown-related fundraising schemes is asked to call the FBI at (203) 777-6311.
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