The long-awaited criminal trial of Hendrix Montecastro and his mother, Helen Pedrino, is finally underway, after a panel of jurors and four alternates was seated November 27.
Montecastro and Pedrino, who are representing themselves, are facing a staggering 317 counts relating to scamming 28 victims out of close to $30 million in a real estate investment fraud and Ponzi scheme.
Prosecutor, chief deputy district attorney Vicki Hightower from the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office has the unenviable task of painting a picture of the massive amounts of evidence so that the jury can understand the charges. Thus far, she has shown the jury a poster with the alleged cast of persons, alleging that Montecastro and Pedrino were the chief architects and that Pedrino, a nurse, targeted church-goers and hospital employees (affinity fraud), using faith to get the former to reveal their financial details.
What should have raised eyebrows were the rules prospective investors were required to follow: commit to three years’ of investing, turn over control of their finances and ask no questions. In return, they would receive (literally) unbelievable returns of 300-700%.
Prosecutor Hightower is trying the case before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Prevost.
Read the original article in the Press Enterprise.
Update: Hendrix Montecastro has made his own opening statements, in which he responds to the prosecution’s opening by stating “There’s no direct evidence” and that “I have God for my attorney” (the Jesus defense). Let’s see if the jury buys it, after they listen to the testimony of persons such as Deborah Weber, who, along with her husband, invested tens of thousands of dollars and lost all of it. You can read more about witness testimony and Montecastro’s defense by clicking here.
Note: James Benjamin Duncan, Maurice McLeod, Cindi Gayle Kelly, Thuan Nhan Du and Charlie Choi have already entered pleas.