Virginia woman gets prison, must repay elderly Eagle County woman for ‘Jamaican lottery’ scam
EAGLE — A Virginia Beach woman is on her way to state prison after bilking an 83-year-old local woman out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Nena Kerny Kochuga, 61, was ordered to repay the money she stole, as well as serve four years in prison and three years parole, District Court Judge Russell Granger ordered during a Monday, Jan. 22, sentencing hearing.
Kochuga admitted she stole the money as part of a supposed “Jamaican lottery” and pleaded guilty to felony theft.
The victim had originally been contacted by another scammer, but eventually was directed to send numerous cashier’s checks and money orders to Kochuga over several months in 2016.
“This is truly one of the lowest and most disgusting crimes I’ve seen in a very long time,” said Bruce Brown, 5th Judicial District Attorney. “Taking advantage of an elderly person with limited income is intolerable. Hopefully if there are others who would consider preying on those who are vulnerable they will think twice before victimizing anyone. Possible targets of fraud also need to remember the old adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Chieft Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan and Deputy District Attorney Kathleen Noone prosecuted the case.
How it happened
According to police reports and court documents, beginning in October 2016, Kochuga contacted the woman as part of a telemarketing scam. Kochuga and a man known as Daniel David Cunningham told the woman she was being given $9 million for winning the Jamaican lottery.
The woman told them that she had not entered any contests or drawings.
Cunningham told the woman that she would have to pay taxes and fees before they could start sending the money.
Over the next several months, the woman sent Kochuga and her co-conspirators $20,000.
The calls stopped for six weeks, but Cunningham eventually contacted the woman again, telling her that he had been in the hospital and that’s why she had not heard from him. He told her they would have to start the process again.
The woman said that during this time, her husband had been in Europe. He returned home in November 2016, discovered what was happening and told her to stop sending money.
Cunningham was nothing if not persistent. He told her to send more money and that if she did not, she would lose the money. He also convinced the woman to change her cellphone number three times because, he told her, he was convinced that other people were listening to their conversations.
The woman finally went to the police, giving them the names and addresses of the people to whom she had been sending money, two of whom were Kochuga’s aliases, Kerny Kochuga and Chong Monahan.
Criminals have tried to defraud the Eagle County woman before, once in 2015 and twice in 2016.
Kochuga’s scheme began to unravel on Oct. 26, 2016, when U.S. Postal Inspector Jason Thomasson intercepted an Express Mail package containing $700 in cash sent from Kochuga to the Eagle County woman.
Thomasson contacted Eagle County law enforcement.
The scammers grew even bolder when they called the woman’s husband, telling him at 3 p.m. they would be delivering a car — a $285,000 Mercedes Benz — from Colorado Springs, and all he would have to pay was the delivery fee.
He called the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, which contacted the Virginia Beach, Virginia, police department, and Detective Alvin Holloman had conducted a similar investigation into Kochuga, which resulted in her arrest in October 2012.
Holloman learned that Kochuga was the American contact for a group of Jamaicans that were part of a money scheme called the Jamaican lottery.
Kochuga kept 25 percent of all the money she collected and sent the rest to her Jamaican co-conspirators.
She served some prison time in Virginia for fraud and was on probation when she was caught in this scam, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office report.
Holloman, of the Virginia Beach Police Department, tracked Kochuga down at her Virginia Beach residence and spoke to her about the new fraud allegations.
“As always, she denied any wrongdoing,” Holloman wrote.
Holloman and Thomasson, the U.S. postal inspector, sent copies of their evidence to Detective Karen Waddell with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, who arrested Kochuga on April 19, 2017.
Brown said the District Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Virginia Beach Police Department, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the financial institutions used by the victim and defendant.
Along with repaying the Eagle County woman she defrauded, Kochuga will also have to repay the $1,992 it cost the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to haul her from Virginia Beach to Eagle County.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.