LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A scammer stole more than $1.4 million from the Clark County School District as part of an international romance scheme where some money was transferred to cryptocurrencies, according to documents the 8 News Now Investigators obtained.
Selma Redmond; of Phoenix, Arizona; Leslie Villarosa; of Chicago; and Jennifer Walsh; of Indiana, each face charges of theft, conspiracy to commit theft, and other financial-related charges, documents said.
In August 2022, a representative from CCSD filed a report saying the district became “the victim of a business email compromise” that July, documents obtained Monday said. An employee sent a $1.45 million payment meant for a Las Vegas-area construction company to a fraudulent bank account.
The scammer used a domain name similar to CCSD’s and the construction company’s and knew of the relationship between the two entities, documents said.
“The unknown attacker was able to trick CCSD accounting personnel into sending funds to [the bank account] controlled by a malicious actor instead of [the construction company’s] bank account by sending emails back and forth between the legitimate and illegitimate domains,” documents said.
Police later learned the bank account belonged to Leslie Villarosa, documents said. U.S. Secret Service agents later interviewed Villarosa at a Chicago office in October 2022, documents said. Villarosa told investigators that “she believed law enforcement would be ‘knocking on her [door] any day’ and she had been fooled into sending money overseas for religious reasons,” documents said.
Villarosa told investigators that in November 2021, she began messaging a person on Facebook in what agents described as a “romance scheme.”
“Villarosa stated she had volunteered to organize a pilgrimage trip for her church to Israel for the purposes of sending $80,000 to one of the individuals she was chatting with in the romance scheme,” documents said. “The total cost of the trip was $185,000 and was paid to her by members of her church with the expectation she would book flights and hotels. Instead, Villarosa said she converted $80,000 of these funds to Bitcoin and sent them to scammers.”
Around the time, Villarosa said the $1.4 million from CCSD “entered her account,” documents said. “Villarosa stated she used $80,000 from CCSD funds to purchase provisions for the pilgrimage, but was still approximately $105,000 short after sending funds to other individuals.”
Villarosa said she did not know the identities of whom she was chatting with online, documents said. It was unclear Monday how the money “entered” Villarosa’s account or who transferred it.
Villarosa provided investigators with a letter they said Walsh sent to her in October 2022.
“In the letter, Walsh identifies herself as the person Villarosa sent bank wires to,” documents said.
Investigators tracked deposits into Redmond’s account and transfers to several cryptocurrencies, documents said.
In November 2022, agents spoke to Redmond at her home. She “denied receiving deposits in the amounts of $450,000 and $120,000 and denied knowing anything about cryptocurrency when asked why she converted funds from flat to cryptocurrency and sent them,” documents said.
Investigators believe Villarosa sent Walsh $95,000, documents said. The Secret Service interviewed Walsh in Indianapolis, documents said.
Walsh told investigators she met someone online in the summer of 2021 who “claimed to work on an oil rig,” documents said.
Walsh said she was “helping” the person she thought she was talking to online by “receiving the funds, withdrawing the funds, and sending them… to a local Bitcoin ATM in Indiana located at a truck stop,” documents said.
Some of the cryptocurrency went to Africa, documents said, with the account’s controller based in Nigeria.
In addition to the three women, investigators believe a fourth person was involved, documents said.
It was unclear Monday how and if Redmond, Villarosa and Walsh knew each other.
Metro police booked Redmond and Walsh last week, records showed. They were granted own recognizance releases and were due in court in October and November. Villarosa’s arrest warrant remained active as of Monday.
Representatives from CCSD did not have an immediate comment on the incident.