Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The commercial manager of the Bank of the West’s South Bay branch in Torrance is being praised by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for stopping a 74-year-old woman from being conned out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Teruichi “Terry” Horikawa became very concerned when a longtime customer said she was considering an investment in the spring of 2014, according to information supplied by the sheriff’s department in an email. He arranged a lunch meeting with her and the person providing information about the investment. He then advised her against it until additional information could be obtained.

Horikawa strongly recommended she seek advice from her children, who are fluent in English and would better understand the complexities of the investment and any documents related to it.

The woman went to the bank on Sept. 9, 2014, in the company of a man and woman of East Indian descent who completed the necessary paperwork to transfer about $200,000 from her bank account to their own, the sheriff’s department reported. However, the wire transfer could not be made because it was too late in the day.

Horikawa checked bank records and learned that approximately another $200,000 had recently been transferred into the woman’s bank account from an escrow company. He surmised that the woman had refinanced her real estate in order to make the investment.

The woman returned to Bank of the West branch on Sept. 12, 2014, with the female from the prior visit and a second woman, also of East Indian descent. This time the first female presented Horikawa with a power of attorney, which had been notarized by the second female.

The power of attorney authorized the first woman to make financial decisions on behalf of the victim of the scam. Horikawa had noted that none of the East Indian individuals spoke Japanese and he knew the woman did not speak English.

Horikawa began speaking to the woman in Japanese in order to ascertain if she knew what was happening. In speaking to her, he learned that she did not know anything about the company she was investing in, the specifics of the investment, or the refinance of her real estate.

Horikawa called Bank of the West fraud investigators to seek direction and advice. The bank’s investigators called the sheriff’s Fraud & Cyber Crimes Bureau-Elder Fraud Detail while the woman and the two East Indian women waited at Horikawa’s desk.

Elder Fraud Detail detectives immediately began an investigation. The wire transfer was stopped and the woman’s money was preserved.

It was later learned that the woman had already “invested” $80,000 with the company. Elder Fraud Detail detectives identified a bank account belonging to the company and obtained judicial authorization to freeze its bank account.

Over the following year, the criminal investigation revealed a complex investment fraud scam. Detectives served more than 10 search warrants and court orders and seized thousands of documents.

Detectives also worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the California Department of Business Oversight to complete the investigation.

The case is now under review by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

It is anticipated that the seizure of the company’s bank account will ultimately provide funds for restitution of the $80,000 the woman “invested” with the company, the sheriff’s department said.

—Staff and wire reports

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