Like many other victims of scams, Patricia Ibarra of Carol Stream feels foolish for being taken.
She’s also ashamed of persuading friends and relatives to join her in investing in a cryptocurrency venture that promised investors returns of 15% to 20%.
Federal authorities now say the purported investment opportunity was really a Ponzi scheme that targeted Latinos.
Ibarra, who lost $27,000 through the scheme, spoke publicly Tuesday about her experience in hopes other victims will step forward to report their dealings with Texas-based CryptoFX LLC to law enforcement.
She was among than 60 people rallying in front of the DuPage County sheriff’s office urging Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin to pursue justice in their cases.
It was organized by the new Association for Justice Against CFX. The group’s leaders said they believe as many as 7,000 Illinois residents, primarily from Chicago and suburbs including Glendale Heights, Addison and West Chicago, lost money.
“Come out of the shadows,” said Cristobal Cavazos, one of the organizers.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Mauricio Chavez of Houston with violating antifraud provisions of two federal Securities Acts, and of the Investment Advisers Act. It alleges Chavez and a co-founder started CryptoFX in 2020 and began holding paid classes to empower the Latino community to build wealth by trading cryptocurrency.
They charged $499 to $1,499 for the classes, the SEC says, and students were also encouraged to give CryptoFX money to invest.
Chavez had no background, education or training in investing or in cryptocurrency; the SEC says he was a landscaper. He claimed to have made over five millionaires in a single year, the SEC says.
But the SEC complaint says he provided investors with false documents that grossly overstated his experience and guaranteed people they would not have losses. It alleges that he raised more than $12 million from more than 5,000 investors.
The SEC says almost $8 million was diverted for personal use, including $1.5 million that Chavez spent on cars, credit-card payments, jewelry, adult entertainment businesses and a house in his wife’s name.
The Association for Justice Against CFX believes that as many as 40,000 people nationwide were swindled out of $300 million.
Chavez denies the allegations.
“The saddest part is unconsciously we hurt our own families,” Ibarra said.
She said young people invested to earn money for education, and old people invested to increase their retirement savings.
“They thought this was a blessing, a great opportunity to continue forward,” Ibarra said.
A friend she knew through her church persuaded her to invest in CryptoFX, Ibarra said. It was advertised as a training academy, where people would learn how to invest in cryptocurrency.
Ibarra at first was reluctant, and her son warned her it was a scam. But after six months of talks with her friend, she invested. When Ibarra received her first “profit” payment, she urged her relatives to join.
Ibarra said she believes her friend is also a fellow victim. But people at the rally displayed posters and talked about Chicago-area people they believe were CryptoFX’s “capos,” people deliberately scamming.
Victim Brenda Gomez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration applicant, said she was trying to earn money to pay for an application for advance parole. Getting advance parole would have allowed her to legally travel out of the country to visit her grandparents.
“This money that was invested, was invested with a lot of illusions, a lot of plans,” she said.
Mistakes were made
Despite a couple of trial errors, a former Carpentersville man convicted of murder 17 years after authorities say he shot a rival gang member in the victim’s bedroom shouldn’t receive a second chance before a jury, a state appeals court has ruled.
Jesus Lechuga, 39, is seeking a new trial on charges he killed 23-year-old Jose Covarrubias of Carpentersville in March 2004. Authorities said Lechuga walked up to Covarrubias’ bedroom window shortly after midnight, knocked on the glass and then shot the victim in the head when he got up to answer.
Lechuga wasn’t charged until nearly six years later. He was tried and convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 55 years in prison last March.
His appeal focused on two trial errors, one by the presiding judge and one by prosecutors.
The judge, he argued, failed to tell jurors that Lechuga’s decision not to testify shouldn’t be taken as a sign of guilt and couldn’t be held against him. And prosecutors, he claimed, made misleading statements during closing arguments.
In its ruling last week, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court sided with Lechuga on both points. However, the court found that neither error was significant enough to overcome the evidence against him, including witnesses who said Lechuga bragged about the killing nearly two dozen times.
“We conclude that the evidence was not closely balanced in this case,” Justice Christopher Kennedy wrote in the unanimous decision. “Five distinct witnesses who were previously friends with defendant or associated with him through his gang membership testified that he confessed to them or that they heard him admit in conversations that he went to Jose’s house, knocked on Jose’s bedroom window, and shot Jose once through the window using a .357 caliber gun, all of which matched the crime scene.”
Lechuga is not eligible for parole until 2075.