August 12, 2011

Fraud in the Family

The Case of the Cheating Foster Parents

Stock image.

It’s almost unthinkable—parents stealing from their own foster child. But here’s a story about a couple who did exactly that.

It’s also a case that Tampa FBI Agent Dan Kelly, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent Terry Corn, and Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill (now U.S. Attorney) won’t soon forget. Said Kelly, “For financial crime investigations, we often don’t get to know the victims, but in this instance, it was hard not to be absorbed into this boy’s situation.”

It started back in 2000, when 13-year-old Markus Kim suffered an unimaginable loss—his father murdered his mother. Markus was eventually placed with foster parents Radhames and Asia Oropeza in Flushing, New York.

About six months later, Markus learned he was entitled to a $500,000 life insurance policy that his mother had taken out. He couldn’t access the money until he turned 18…in the interim it would be managed by the life insurance company. Not long after, Radhames and Asia Oropeza began suggesting that Markus consider real estate investing when he became of age.  

Around the time Markus turned 18, his foster parents left New York without a word to him. Turns out they had moved to Florida, and about a year later, he was invited down to visit them. The Oropezas convinced their foster son to buy two $200,000 certificates of deposit (CDs) from a local bank…to better protect his money, they said. Because Markus trusted them, he followed their advice, and even allowed Asia Oropeza to co-sign bank documents.

The bank told Markus he’d receive monthly $1,000 checks—interest earned by the CDs. But after two checks, they stopped coming. He discovered that the CD accounts had been emptied and closed by Asia Oropeza.  

So how did the FBI become involved? Markus, becoming exceedingly frustrated, contacted a legal aid attorney in New York, who in turn sought the help of an attorney in Florida. The attorney, who worked the case pro bono, contacted Acting U.S. Attorney O’Neill in Tampa. And O’Neill got in touch with the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Our investigation revealed that the couple used the CDs—which were also in Asia Oropeza’s name—as collateral when applying for two separate mortgage loans, and then once the CDs matured, they used the funds to pay off those loans.

Outcome. Asia Oropeza pled guilty to fraud, while her husband was later convicted at trial. They were ordered to pay Markus restitution, had their real estate holdings seized, and received prison terms.

And last month in Tampa, during a press conference attended by investigators and prosecutors who worked the case, the 25-year-old Markus, who works as a concert stage hand in New York, received full restitution—a check for $409,662.07. He told the press that receiving the money gave him “a new lease on life.”

Special Agent Kelly says that the investigation brought him and everyone else involved a great deal of satisfaction. “Cases like this,” he explained, “show us what kind of impact our work actually has, and that’s what keeps us out there doing it every day.”

- Press release