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PTA Moms Collected Millions in Ponzi Scheme: Cops

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(DIAMOND BAR, Calif.) -- Three former PTA members in California have been accused of running an alleged Ponzi scheme defrauding more than 30 people, many of whom they met at school functions, in the span of two years.

Maricela Barajas, 41, Juliana Menefee, 50, and Eva Perez, 51, were former members of the Armstrong Elementary School PTA in Diamond Bar, but now face 22 counts each of grand theft of personal property and securities fraud.

The three mothers allegedly told victims they were investing in a contract with Alta Dena Dairy, a company based in southern California owned by Dean Foods, to sell milk exclusively to Disneyland, according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney James Belna.

Dean Foods spokeswoman Marguerite Copel said the three women "are not associated in any way with the Alta Dena facilities."

The DA's office said the women befriended their investors and allegedly collected millions in cash, ranging from $2,000 to $100,000, between June 2008 and August 2010. The victims, who reside throughout Los Angeles County, were allegedly promised "extraordinary" rates of return, according to Belna.

It's unclear how much of the alleged financial gain they've returned in total.

Police said most of the alleged victims are "hard-working" people, some of whom took out second mortgages on their homes and invested their life savings in what they thought was a legitimate business. But the alleged Ponzi scheme began to unravel when the women could not return money to the investors, officials said.

If convicted on all counts, each woman faces up to 13 years in state prison, deputy DA Belna said.

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