A former suburban Chicago financial advisor has been sentenced to 4½ years in prison for scamming about 15 elderly clients out of more than $3 million and using the money to feed her gambling habits and to make Ponzi payments, according to the sentencing document obtained from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Illinois.

During the sentencing, which was conducted via videoconference last week, Lucita Zamoras, 58, of Niles, Ill., also was ordered by U.S. District Judge Manish Shah to pay restitution of $3.14 million, the amount stolen.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in April 2017 had filed a complaint alleging that Zamoras solicited investors for a promissory note program and subsequently misappropriated their funds, beginning in 2009. The SEC said the scheme encouraged investors to transfer their 401(k)s, which had been invested in stable, interest-bearing annuities, to self-directed IRA accounts and purchase promissory notes issued by her. She promised 3.5% to 5% annual interest on the notes. But Zamoras never invested her clients' funds, the SEC alleged.

In October 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago filed a parallel criminal case against Zamoras, charging her with one count of mail fraud for swindling the elderly clients out of their retirement savings. The court document noted that Zamoras continued the fraud scheme by taking the victims’ money based on false representations, and by making false promises to repay investors, even though she was aware that the SEC was investigating her criminal conduct. She pleaded guilty in May 2019.

Asked why it took three years for Zamoras to be sentenced, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Fitzpatrick for the Northern District of Illinois responded in email, "That’s not something we comment on, so I will decline to comment."

Zamoras, the court document said, claimed to be a financial advisor who specialized in retirement planning. She owned and operated several companies in Niles, Ill., including First Fidelity Financial Group, LLC; JQH Ventures, LLC; and Cornerstone Home Solutions. Zamoras offered financial services and purported investment opportunities through her companies, none of which were registered with the SEC. Her offerings included providing financial advice, retirement and estate planning, tax preparation, the sale of financial products such as life insurance and annuities, and purported real estate investment opportunities, the court said.

The court document said from 2009 through 2018, Zamoras, who worked as an insurance agent, defrauded investors by obtaining their money and property “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and by means of material omissions.”

The Philippine native targeted Filipino immigrants, primarily older women who were retired or about to retire. They trusted her because she was a part of their community and she told them she was a financial advisor, the court said. She lied to them about the risks involved, claiming that she would invest their funds in safe, secure, long-term, low risk investments, and that they would not lose their savings, the court said.

“Zamoras knew that the safety of those funds was of tremendous importance to the victims because most of the victims were investing their retirement savings or their life’s savings,” the court said. It noted that Zamoras was specifically told by several of the investors, nine of whom were in their seventies, that they were giving her their life savings, which they had worked for years to earn.

The amount she swindled from investor totaled about $3,919,692.29, and she made payments of about $778,199.67, the documents said. The loss to the victims therefore totaled about $3,141,492.62, the court said, noting that most of the money paid to victims came from other victims, even though Zamoras claimed those payments were interest payments or profits earned through investments.

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