Last week’s large-scale swindling activity involving non-Boholano crooks who had taken advantage of the “trusting nature” of the Boholano people is indeed a repeat of another big-time swindling scheme that struck Tagbilaran City business establishments in 2009, or eight years ago, The Bohol Tribune has learned.
As more business establishments in the city had come out and disclosed to authorities that they had fallen victims to a group of swindlers from Mindanao who took advantage of the popularity of a family name that had once ruled the province and the city, the latest large-scale swindling case had proved that it was nurtured by the unquestioning mindset of the Boholanos.
As one Bohol Tribune source has said: “Usa kini ka laing abuso sa kabuotan ug kayo sa mga Bol-anon.”
If the 2009 swindling was perfected by a male person, last week’s scam was designed by a woman who used Co and Torralba family names as her identity.
Initial police estimates showed that the combined loses of the victims could reach more or less P5 million worth of goods and a couple of trucks, in a modus operandi that was executed in time for last week’s All Saints’ and All Souls’ holidays.
Senior Superintendent Felipe Rivera Natividad, Bohol police director, meanwhile, said that police operatives in Agusan del Norte and nearby provinces had been requested for a Mindanao-wide manhunt on a group of scammers that carted away goods, including two trucks, which were purchased by a dubious store owner using unfunded checks.
In an elaborate scheme that requires patience and initial investments, the group, led by a woman who introduced herself as Feliza Domingo Torralba, managed to put up a seemingly legitimate business venture in Tagbilaran City, having complied with all government-mandated documents, including a mayor’s permit and a business name registration at a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) local office.
Police report said the suspects had even rented a two-floor house in a posh subdivision in the nearby Dauis town.
Senior Inspector Jojit Mananquil, of the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) based in Camp Dagohoy, said that the proprietor of F. Torralba General Merchandise, in recent weeks, had been purchasing goods from city-based establishments, though in smaller quantities using checks as payments.
Since the checks, involving a few thousand pesos, had been fully encashed in previous transactions, the store owner was able to gain trust from her Boholano suppliers.
Then on Saturday, October 29, Torralba ordered more goods from her would-be victims, this time in bulk, using checks as payments.
Over the weekend, the suspect also issued two separate checks to two car dealers as downpayments for two truck units, according to police report.
On October 30, Monday, the Bohol-based suppliers were notified from a bank that the checks issued by Torralba had bounced, prompting them to report the incident to the police.
Following mounting complaints, police on Tuesday raided the store in question and the rented house in Dauis town, but Torralba and her cohorts were found to have left Bohol province via the Jagna town seaport aboard a roro ship bound for Nasipit in Agusan del Norte, taking with them various goods and two trucks.
Police said the suspects left the province in the first hours of Sunday after they had loaded all the goods they had taken from various stores which were purchased in checks that turned out to be bogus.
Natividad said a deeper probe on Torralba’s illegal activities in Bohol is underway, hinting the suspects could have received help from local counterparts.
Mananquil, for his part, said he believes the suspects could be part of a larger syndicate that operates nationwide.
“I think the suspects were using fictitious names and fake documents,” he said. “This scheme was planned for months.”
Mananquil also noted that swindling, extortion, robbery, and other illegal money-making activities would likely rise as the Christmas season approaches.
THE 2009 GRAND SCAM AS DOCUMENTED BY BOHOL SUNDAY POST
According to a 2009 news report by the defunct newspaper, Bohol Sunday Post, millions of pesos worth of consumers goods, computers, copying machines, jewelries, and many other valuable items were lost in a con game involving bouncing checks that spanned four months of undetected operations.
Scores of victims showed up to tell their sad stories but many others refused to come to terms with the swindle apparently because they don’t want to be at the losing end of a “bad bargain”.
Those who remain silent about their losses were big establishments like Shoppers’ Mart that as of last report refused to cooperate with co-victims as to how much worth of goods was carted away by the syndicate.
The list of victims with their corresponding losses were a soft drink distributor, P85,000 worth of soft drinks; Rusco Motors, one multicab van; Philcopy Corp., two photo copiers worth P180,000; Ruchele Computers, computer units worth P229,200; Sonjay Microsystems, notebook computers worth P190,000; Fullerlife, beauty products worth, P39,000; Esther Felisarta, jewelries worth, P103,000; Dranix, cigarettes worth more than P100,000; Natures Spring Water, bottled water of commercial quantity; and Magor Trading, two photo copiers including school supplies, P100,000 more or less; NCC Menthos candy agent,P41,000 worth of Menthos candy; Jeffrey Appliance, one air conditioning unit and Globelines, one unit Nokia E71 celfone worth P18,000 and unpaid celfone bills worth P3,800.
Another jeweler and a lending investor were also listed as victims but the Sunday Post source failed to identify them and their corresponding losses. But, the way the gang operated on their other victims, it was possible that it was in the thousands of pesos.
Believed part of a syndicate operating nationwide, the modus was quite simple.
In the Bohol setting, the gang first operated a store along Visarra St. , this city last April, 2009.
The starting business was an orange juice distributor.
Named Sweet-o Orange, it has a manager identified as LambertoMedalla with last known address as Bongavella St. , Victoria Subdivision, Victoria City Negros Occidental.
He was also known as Albert Santiago Enterprises of Maypajo, Caloocan City.
With a compliment of several employees including ambulant sales persons, the orange juice distributor also pretended to be in the business of dealing ranging from food products, soft drinks to cigarettes.
After getting the trust and confidence of unsuspecting consumer goods dealers, the gang leader then issued post-dated checks to cover the purchase of stocks displayed in the two stores.
Along the way, the gang opened another outlet near the Dauis junction to convince their suppliers that business was making good.
The checks issued during the early days of the sting operations were cleared for sufficient funds back up.
As in any con game, the turnover of good checks proved to be short-lived.
It was last July 13, 2009 when the city suppliers realized that they were duped.
The prospective victims were alarmed when they learned that two employees of the “food distributor” found to their surprise that their store was closed for no apparent reason.
A clerk identified only as Rhea wondered aloud why the Visarra outlet was closed.
She then remembered the Saturday before that her boss, Medalla, asked for the keys and she handed them to him.
The clerk then proceeded to the Dauis branch and together with another sales agent discovered that the store was emptied of all its product display and it was in complete disarray.
The news of the manager and his cohorts’ disappearing act sent alarm bells ringing to innocent employees.
The panic wave also caught up with the dealers who were issued post-dated checks. With PDCs in hand, they trooped to RCBC Savings only to find out that the current account in the name of Lamberto Lim Medalla was already closed.
Subsequent investigations showed that Medalla left his Dauis station at dawn on July 12, 2009 on board the Multicab he acquired through mortgage at the Rusco Motors.
Fully loaded with the stolen goods, the vehicle left for Ubay and took the roro route via Bato, Leyte.
Since the multicab was purchased through PDC, the dealer required him to pause for a picture in front of the vehicle for purposes of identification.
The manager’s secretary identified as Divina Garcia Rodrigo also known as Alma was found to have took the early flight of Philippine Air Lines that day for Manila.
She was seen hurriedly riding a tricycle with several baggage.
In fact, it was learned, she was charged for carrying excess load.
Another cohort, identified as Mildred Sy, was found to have boarded a fast craft bound for Cebu City together with a certain Shiela.
The other accomplices of the syndicated crime were identified as Julie Acenas Aguimatang of Caloocan City; Irish Barasolla alias Sam and Shiela Mendez whose last known address was Bacolod City.