In what authorities are calling an "unconscionable" act, a 37-year-old Bronx woman was arrested today on allegations that she pretended to be a relative of a victim of the Sandy Hook School shooting in an attempt to solicit money.
According to a press release just issued by David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Kimberly K. Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nouel Alba was arrested today on a federal criminal complaint charging her with lying to FBI agents in connection with their investigation into a fraudulent fundraising scheme related to the Dec. 14 Newtown school shooting.
News of the shooting that took the lives of 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook School has touched people all over the world, and led to an incredible outpouring of emotional support and financial contributions.
The complaint alleges that Alba used her Facebook account, telephone calls and text messages to falsely claim to be a relative of a shooting victim, and solicited money from people who wanted to donate, claiming the money was for the child’s “funeral fund,” the release states.
At Alba’s instruction, authorities said, donor-victims sent money to a PayPal account controlled and accessed by her. When contacted by FBI Special Agents investigating fundraising and charity scams related to the Newtown tragedy, Alba falsely stated that she did not post information related to Newtown on her Facebook account, solicit donations or recently access her PayPal account, according to the release.
Alba also falsely claimed to have immediately refunded any donations that she received, authorities said.
“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,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein. “Investigators continue to monitor the Internet to uncover other fundraising scams arising from this tragedy, and the individuals operating them face federal or state prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
“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,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Mertz. “Today's arrest is a stern message that the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrate Internet fund raising scams, especially those scams that exploit the most vulnerable in their time of shared sorrow.”
Following her arrest, Alba appeared before United States Magistrate Thomas P. Smith in Hartford and was released on a $50,000 bond. If convicted of making false statements to federal agents, Alba faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Fein stressed that a complaint is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Individuals with knowledge of Newtown-related fundraising schemes are encouraged to contact the FBI in Connecticut at 203-777-6311. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Francis.