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California 'Ponzi Moms' Allegedly Steal Millions

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Taking a page out of former New York financier Bernard Madoff's playbook, California residents Maricela Barajas, Juliana Celeste Menefee and Eva Perez are accused of running a Ponzi scheme that allegedly took millions of dollars from more than 40 people.

The trio are being called the "Ponzi moms" because they are all former members of the Diamond Bar elementary school PTA.

Investigators in Los Angeles say Barajas, Menefee and Perez convinced people to turn over their life savings or take equity in their homes while working at PTA events.

The suspects allegedly told their "marks" that they could guarantee them 100 percent returns on their investments through a company that distributed products to Disneyland, Disney hotels and small retailers.

They collected about $14 million from 2008 to 2010 while returning only $10,000, according to police.  When pressed by their investors for money, the trio allegedly explained that the delay was due to an internal audit of the phony business.  All but $1.4 million of the money has been recovered.

It was all a Ponzi scheme, according to investigators, and each woman now faces 22 counts of grand theft of personal property and securities fraud, which could mean a maximum of 13 years in state prison.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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