Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Where's the Party? Part 2
A party planner first exposed in a Seven News Investigation is facing criminal charges tonight, and authorities are hoping this case will send a message to anyone who might be involved in a South Florida scam. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- Customers know her as Annie Nunez, the law knows her as Anna Guerra; she is currently free on bond.
Judge Spencer Eig: "Anna Guerra."
Guerra was not in court when a lawyer entered a not guilty plea for her to multiple felony charges that sprung from Dream Stages, her former party planning business.
Judge Spencer Eig: "Mr. Burns, what's the maximum penalty that Ms. Guerra might face if she's convicted at a trial by jury?"
Prosecutor Burns: "She's looking at 55 years in state prison."
We first showed you last month how Dream Stages turned dream events into nightmares, according to several clients, among them Melba Gonzalez.
Melba Gonzalez: "I try not to cry, but it's really hard because how can somebody do something like that?"
Melba wanted to renew her vows after 25 years of marriage, but, right before the church ceremony was supposed to begin, she says she learned the reception hall had not been paid.
Melba Gonzalez: "I had to pay $13,000 over the phone, money that I had already paid."
All of these people say they paid Guerra for events, from weddings to big birthday parties, and then had to pay again.
Lillian Villamizar: "I felt so stupid because here I am thinking I'm a smart person, and I shouldn't let this happen to me."
Andres Hernandez: "I really have to get a second mortgage on my house to do this party, you know?"
Eliso Ruiz: "I contacted her, and it was lies after lies."
This is Guerra's booking photo taken the day she was arrested. She was initially charged with one count of organized fraud and one count of grand theft. Now there are eight more grand theft charges, some based on victims who came forward following our report. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office says fraud cases are getting special attention.
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle: "In many ways, depending on your circumstances, it isn't all about money. It's about your whole quality of life, and sometimes the pen can be as sharp as a knife."
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle says with the economy in trouble, her office anticipates even more white collar crimes.
Katherine Fernandez Rundle: "Scam artists, we know your game. We know you're out there. If we catch you, we're going to be holding you accountable, asking for the money back and looking for some very serious criminal justice consequences."
And that is comforting to the clients of Anna Guerra who initially didn't think anybody cared about what had happened to them.
Lillian Villamizar: "I thought it's going to go into somebody's desk, and they're not going to do anything, but I guess they did see all the damage that she has done and what she potentially could have kept on going on doing."
Carmel Cafiero: "The trial is set for February. In the meantime, some Dream Stages customers are paying credit card debt and second mortgages, they say they had to take out in order to make sure their once-in-a-lifetime events could actually happen."
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