Saturday, January 14, 2017

Karla Varga, sister Lucianna Lopez/Tucson AZ scam

Had to grab this article as a cache because the link broke trying to go to the Tucson newspaper for some reason.
This story gives one hope that when you are scammed by someone who is an expectant mom, and she has made an adoption plan, has the legal right to change her mind but chooses not too,,can be brought before the courts as a case of fraud because of her failure to do so and second charge of continuing to receive funds she is not entitled too.
This fraudster also enlisted her sister to act as her landlord.  There are ways to verify who owns the home one is paying rent for.  Think people need to figure that out before the pay.  Check property tax records is one way.

Will be interesting to see what her sentence is.  I also have a feeling, given her history of fraud, that she will be back at once she is released.

For a Boston couple longing to be parents, it was a devastating lie told again and again for a little over $6,000. 
For a Tucson police detective, it was a highly unusual request.
Adoption fraud was an area of the law Tucson Detective Jennifer Burns had never explored before, but she soon called back Cindy Cantrell and Jack McHugh to say yes. 
Cantrell hoped an investigation would ensure Karla Vargas and Vargas' twin sister would never subject another couple to the grief they endured. 
Vargas, a 35-year-old mother who has reportedly had 12 children and a long history of child welfare issues, admitted in a December plea hearing only that she lied about the amount of rent due, said her attorney, Michelle Bowen. Vargas declined an interview request.
But Cantrell and Burns say the deceit was deliberate and carried out from the beginning, when Cantrell and McHugh first signed the adoption contract in July 2015. They said Vargas never intended to give up the twins she was carrying that year, and only sought the contract to get money.
Like all birth mothers involved in adoption plans, Vargas could change her mind at any time during her pregnancy and for up to 72 hours after giving birth. 
But Vargas never told anyone involved she had changed her mind, Cantrell and Burns said. 
Instead, the detective found Vargas and her sister, Lucianna Lopez, tried to get more money from the couple after Vargas had given birth a month early and then kept it a secret. 
Lopez was also indicted on charges of fraud and forgery in the case but has not pleaded guilty, as Vargas has to the one count. Lopez's attorney, Richard Kingston, declined an interview request. 
Vargas could be ordered to spend up to 8.7 years in prison or up to five years on probation at her sentencing Tuesday before Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley.
The twins -- a boy and a girl -- are now just over a year old, their well-being and current caregivers not a matter of public record.
Cantrell and McHugh started training to be foster parents last fall, a final attempt to adopt the twins who were removed from their mother's care by Arizona's Department of Child Safety in May. But a short time after completing the initial steps, the Boston couple realized how complicated and prolonged that process would be, and have since entered into an adoption agreement for another baby.
While they are overjoyed to have another chance to become parents, Cantrell said it has taken a long time to recover from an experience she describes as  "psychologically violent."
When Cantrell contacted the Tucson Police Department a year ago, Detective Burns said it was the first time she'd heard of adoption fraud allegations in her 16 years with the department, including a decade working financial crimes. 
"The case started up quite a discussion," she said of her unit. "We were not familiar with the laws of adoption."
What motivated Burns to try to build a case were two things Cantrell had reported to police: Vargas kept the births a secret and then tried to get money after the babies were born while pretending to still be pregnant.   
Cantrell and McHugh first connected with Vargas through the California-based Adoption Network Law Center. They were told Vargas saw their profile online and chose them as adoptive parents. 
"We were thrilled when we were matched with Karla so quickly," Cantrell said, explaining they'd been through an interrupted adoption just a few months earlier. "It seemed like a fairy tale to us that she was due at Christmas."
The idea of raising twins made them pause for only a moment, she said. They were thrilled. 
"I thanked her again and again and again for choosing us," she said. "We felt so fortunate." 
As part of the contract, they agreed to provide monthly support through the Law Center. They also paid Oasis Adoption Services, Inc. of Tucson for its services for Vargas, and had their own provider back in Boston.
Vargas and Lopez set them up from the beginning, Burns said, by telling them Lucianna Lopez was Vargas' landlord and exaggerating by $100 per month the amount of the rent due. The couple did not know the sister "Lucy" they would later meet was the same person posing as Vargas' landlord, police records show.
In addition to rent, the couple also paid Vargas' monthly food bills, bought her maternity clothing, set aside money for counseling she might want and paid for her phone and bus passes. The total over those four to five months amounted to $6,014.95.
Looking back, Cantrell said there were warning signs right from the start. 
The first was that Vargas did not get in touch with anyone as promised after she found out the babies' genders.
She also told them her cell phone was going to be turned off, which was perplexing since Cantrell and her husband were paying the bill. And a couple of times they were asked to pay rent early because the landlord was "going on vacation." 
"It was always something, it was always something," Cantrell said. "I knew she'd had a tough life and it made me uncomfortable and sad, but I kept giving her the benefit of the doubt." 
Vargas also didn't seem interested in meeting the couple -- which Cantrell said they respected as her choice -- but then she suddenly changed her mind and had them come the weekend there was a pro football game in Phoenix. Cantrell said Vargas and her sister kept suggesting they all could go see the game -- they are both Dallas fans -- and were so focused on getting there that, to Cantrell, it seemed the reason they'd invited the couple out.
But there was also a tender moment that September weekend, when Vargas invited Cantrell along to an ultrasound appointment. Cantrell said when she saw the twins, she felt overcome with love and excitement.
"I thought, 'This is real. This is happening,' " she said. 
When the technician printed out the photos and asked who should take them, Cantrell said Vargas "snatched them away" and put them in her bag.
Cantrell tried to be understanding, but in hindsight sees that was another indication things weren't right.
"Those are her babies and those are her pictures and I respected that," she said. "I felt like she was feeling defensive and I felt terrible about that."

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    Communication after the Tucson visit became increasingly sporadic, Cantrell said. 
    Then, on Nov. 10, Cantrell's mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly, leaving them grief-stricken and distracted organizing services. 
    When they heard from Vargas again, she told them she had been out of touch because her son was in the hospital with pneumonia. Cantrell said they later learned the twins had been born on Nov. 15 and were in a neonatal intensive care unit for a couple of weeks. 
    Vargas, they would soon learn, had taken them home Nov. 30. 
    Throughout late November, Cantrell and her husband were ready to fly to Tucson at a moment's notice. Vargas' sister suggested they plan to be there by Dec. 10 if nothing happened earlier, Cantrell said. 
    While Cantrell was busy preparing for the twins, she said her husband began to sense something wasn't right. 
    Vargas, unbeknownst to them, had changed her privacy setting on her medical records and so they were not seeing any of the developments, Cantrell said.  
    Based on the lack of communication and her husband's concerns, Cantrell sent a text to Vargas Nov. 29 and asked, "Is everything OK between us?"
    Vargas responded that everything was fine, Cantrell said.
    McHugh also exchanged text messages with Lopez the next day, on Nov. 30, explaining they'd been unable to get much feedback from Vargas and were wondering when they should fly out. A copy of the text exchange shows Lopez told them her sister's doctors thought the twins would arrive Dec. 14.
    Oasis Adoption was also trying to contact Vargas during this time, Cantrell said.
    Later that day, the couple received a conference call from the adoption agency and the California law center: Vargas, they were told, had given birth weeks earlier and told no one. 
    She'd been discharged from an area hospital that same day, they were told, but no one had been able to reach her yet.
    On Dec. 1, a text from Vargas' phone came through to the California law center handling the contract: rent was due and funds were needed as soon as possible.
    A month later, in late January 2016, a grief-stricken Cantrell contacted the Tucson Police Department. She was afraid the sisters would target another couple in the future. 
    "I would then have played a part in whatever crimes she committed in the future and I couldn't be a part of that, a part of other people's suffering," she said.  
    Vargas had gone through with at least one adoption before, Cantrell said. 
    "That's where we gained our hope from, and that's where she learned the system," she said.
    Detective Burns could tell Cantrell was uneasy during their first conversation, and so she tried to put her mind to rest. The two spoke frequently in the months ahead. 
    Usually, the crimes Burns investigates are property crimes related to businesses or banks, situations where people are disappointed but not brokenhearted. 
    "She listened to me, she asked how I was doing," Cantrell said. "I expected our interactions to be very businesslike, but she reached out from a place of compassion and empathy."
    Cantrell said having the detective believe their story, and invest so much time in investigating it "has gone a long way toward helping me heal from trauma that is still difficult to describe."
    Catherine Braman, executive director with Oasis Adoption Services, declined to comment on Vargas' case specifically, but said she has heard of only  one other Arizona case in which a birth mother was prosecuted for fraud. 
    "There's a lot of safeguards in place," said Braman, who has operated her agency since 2000 and worked in adoption since 1996. "We work really hard to not let that happen."
    Kristin Yellin, chief legal counsel with the Adoption Network Law Center, said her organization provides legal oversight in adoption cases and financial protection if a birth mother changes her mind. 
    Yellin's organization,which is also considered a victim in the case, has reimbursed the Boston couple for the money they spent supporting Vargas. 
    "We have to let our clients know we may never know the whole truth about any particular individual," she said, explaining they do record checks on any birth mother seeking adoption for her child.  "If there are things like fraud or bad checks or drug issues in the past, yes, we will let them know."
    Vargas pleaded guilty to a class three felony for attempted fraud scheme and artifice, said Benjamin Mendola, a deputy Pima County Attorney. She is being held at Pima County Jail on a bond of $11,000. 
    Lopez has another hearing scheduled for her case at 9 a.m. on Jan. 24. It's unclear whether she'll take a plea at that time, Mendola said. 
    When Burns learned Cantrell and her husband were advancing toward adopting another child, she sent them gifts, all things her own children had enjoyed when they were young: a rattle, a special blanket and a Baby Einstein music player. 
    "It felt like a victory for them," she said. "I wanted a happy ending for her. I didn't want her to give up."
    The gifts from Burns were among the first presents they received for the adoption that's now underway, Cantrell said.
    "We looked at her note," she said, "and we both cried."
    Contact reporter Patty Machelor at or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar

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