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California USA Timeshare News: March 29, 2014

It's Happy Hour at The GateHouse>> WESTERN USA TIMESHARE NEWS:

LOMPOC: You’ll want to settle down and get comfy for this one. 😉

John Aurelio Cuda, 55, is doing time at the Federal Prison Camp at Lompoc, with a release date of June 6, 2017. You say you’re not familiar with the name? You might know him better as Antonio Copella, one of the masterminds of the Belair, Hotel U, grand Miramar and other timeshare frauds in the Puerto Vallarta area of Mexico.

Here’s the story.

In the early 1990s John Cuda and his younger brother James Richard Cuda were running an investment scam in Texas that primarily targeted senior citizens. According to court documents their modus operandi was to buy lists of people who responded to mailings such as sweepstakes entries and then contact them by mail or phone with “investment” opportunities that offered too-good-to-be-true returns and were run by shell corporations. While the deals wore the veneer of respectability, they inevitably failed, leaving their investors with large losses. Typically the Cudas targeted the elderly, persons often with large amounts of cash to invest and limited ability to protect themselves.

Their crime spree came to a screeching halt on May 6, 1993 when John Cuda accompanied an octogenarian woman into a Beaumont, TX bank to close out her $100,000 bank account (while James waited outside in a rental car). They wanted a cashier’s check made out to Home Equity Consulting Group.

But the woman, who was somewhat impaired in her thinking ability, was well known to the bank and they suspected she was being swindled so they called the police. Making a long story short, the brothers were arrested and the police notified the FBI, at which time it was discovered that the brothers were connected with four fraud cases in California. (James had also been arrested in Florida for defrauding an elderly woman but those charges had been dismissed, as the state statute under which James had been charged was declared unconstitutionally vague.)

Because of the interstate nature of these activities, a federal indictment was sought. The Cudas were charged with mail fraud, bank larceny, and conspiracy to commit bank larceny. The scope of the indictment covered not only the Cudas’ dealings in Texas, but also those in Florida and California. Two of their corporations, Rancho Santa Fe Developing Corporation and Home Equity, were also charged in superseding indictments.

In due time a jury found them guilty on all counts, they were sentenced, and were remanded to prison. Richard served his time and was released on May 4, 1996. John, who got a longer sentence of 70 months (with a projected release date of Sept. 30, 1999), decided NOT to serve out his sentence and on May 4, 1996 he escaped. (Was it a coincidence that the brothers saw the last of their prison cells on the same day?)

Fast forward, the brothers showed up in Puerto Vallarta using phony ID: John became Antonio Copella (variant spellings of Capela, Cappela, Capel and Cupel) and James became Jonathan James Tomasello Michael Logan. (Correction: Jonathan James Tomasello is John Cuda’s son.)

They set up shop using their special skills to conduct massive timeshare frauds and they profited mightily (google Belair or Grand Miramar timeshare fraud and you’ll get an eyeful, and that’s just part of their scams). Some estimates conclude that they scammed at least 800 people, mainly Americans and Canadians, out of millions of dollars over the years.

More recently they and several of their “lieutenants” have also been implicated in a variety of resale scams of epidemic proportions.

Fast forward again to October 2013. The two John Cuda and his son James Tomasello were arrested in Mexico on charges of real estate fraud, with bail set at $1 million USD ($81,842,723.93 pesos). Guess what? They promptly made bail and walked out of jail. (It made headlines in all the local papers.)

But Immigration got curious about their legal status (perhaps they were tipped off?) and ran John’s fingerprints through the US Federal Marshals’ database. Guess what they found? Yeah.

So on December 16, 2013, Interpol took custody of John at the Puerto Vallarta airport and delivered him to the US Marshals in the USA, at which time he was promptly arrested on an outstanding bench warrant. By January 2014 he was back in Lompoc (a low security prison from which he has already escaped once) to serve the remaining three years and four months of his sentence.

Jonathan Tomasello is still at large, probably in the greater Vallarta area, along with James Richard Cuda and other members of the extended family.

Will the two (plus their partners in crime) ever be charged in the States with the crimes they’ve allegedly committed against their compatriots? It’s hard to guess, but if you’re one of their victims and you want to help in that process it wouldn’t hurt to contact the FBI with details of their perfidy — pointing out that one of them is already in custody in the USA and handy for questioning and/or prosecution.

Just a thought…


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1 comment

  1. A Neutral Observer

    Unbelievable! People who target the most vulnerable members of society are the absolute worst! God bless that perceptive bank employee who suspected that something was amiss and called the police. That story shows the best as well as the worst side of human nature. I’m glad at least one of those brothers were caught! As it states in the Bible, ill-gotten gain is always removed!




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