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Woman admits to donation scam

November 09, 2005|By By Mark R. Madler

LOS ANGELES -- A Glendale woman admitted in court Tuesday to taking part in a scam in which she and a male co-defendant collected money under the guise of helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Gina Liz Nicholas plea comes four days after co-defendant Tino Lee, of Burbank, made a similar plea before U.S. District Judge George King.

In plea agreements reached with federal prosecutors, Lee, 44, and Nicholas, 22, admitted to setting up a table at the Empire Center and taking cash donations they had no intention of giving to the American Red Cross to help hurricane victims, as they claimed.

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Lee is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 6 and Nicholas on Feb. 13.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsay is expecting the pair will be given probation because the dollar amount in the scam was less than $1,000.

"We were able to stop them before they collected more," Lindsay said.

Theodore Flier, the attorney for Nicholas, also expected that she would get probation when sentenced because of the dollar amount and because it was Nicholas's first offense.

"She's completely remorseful," Flier said. "This was a terrible error in judgment."

Attempts to reach Robert Welbourn, the attorney for Lee, were not successful.

Lee and Nicholas were picked up on Sept. 15 outside the Best Buy at the Empire Center after a Burbank Police officer became suspicious of how they were conducting themselves, making her think they were not with the Red Cross, police said.

Also arrested was a 14-year-old Pico Rivera girl whose case is being handled in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Lindsay said.

Attempts to reach Assistant Dist. Atty. Anna Phillips who is handling the juvenile case were not successful.

At the time of the arrests, police recovered $500 from the couple, but speculate more money had been collected since Lee and Nicholas had been outside the store for several days.

The Burbank incident was one of only a handful he has heard of involving scams related to hurricane relief, said H.T. Linke, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles.

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