PROSECUTORS: California Man Hatched Ponzi Scheme And ‘Trust’ Scams — And Ripped Off His Elderly Mother’s Social Security Benefits After She Went Missing

A California man has pleaded guilty to hatching a real-estate Ponzi scheme, transferring a property acquired in the scheme to two “trust” accounts and cherry-picking his 82-year-old mother’s Social Security benefits after she went missing in January 2009.

William Warren Baker, 59, of Laguna Nigel, now faces up to 10 years in state prison, prosecutors said.

The Ponzi, which raised more than $900,000 and targeted people of faith, was discovered by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department after Baker’s mother vanished, the office of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

Sara Jo Mowery, Baker’s mother, still hasn’t been found. Prosecutors said that, under federal law, Social Security benefits “are to cease being provided to any beneficiary until the missing person is found or pronounced deceased.”

Baker was accused of “stealing” the Social Security funds. How they were distributed was not immediately clear.

During the Ponzi probe, sheriff’s investigators discovered Baker “had set up a previously undiscovered joint bank account” into which Mowery’s Social Security benefits were deposited.

“After his mother’s disappearance, Baker began illegally withdrawing the funds from that account, stealing $6,100 in all,” prosecutors said.

All in all, Baker pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of using untrue statements in the purchase or sale of securities and one felony count of grand theft from the Social Security Administration. Special sentencing enhancements are in effect because of the size of the overall theft, which is considered an “aggravated white collar crime.”

Baker recruited investors by telling them he’d buy, refurbish and flip real estate at a profit, prosecutors said.

But it was just a lie designed to separate church friends and others from their money, prosecutors said.

Indeed, prosecutors said, Baker “failed to purchase a property to be renovated and flipped as promised to his investors.

“Baker instead purchased a property for himself and transferred the property into a trust belonging to his son,” prosecutors continued. “He later transferred the property into a trust belonging to his wife. Baker used investor money for personal expenses or to pay back old investors from previous ventures.”

Any person with information about the whereabouts of Mowery, who went missing more than two years ago and now would be 84, is asked to contact the Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department or their local police department.

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