The FBI arrested a New York City woman Thursday for allegedly collecting fraudulent “funeral fund” donations for a child killed in the Newtown school massacre, claiming she was his aunt.Nouel Alba, 37, of the Bronx was charged with making false statements to federal agents. She appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Hartford, Conn., and was released on a $50,000 bond. If convicted, Alba could face a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI says Alba used her Facebook account, telephone and text messages to solicit donations for the “funeral fund” of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, the first to be buried of the 20 children and six educators slain Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The complaint states:
At ALBA’s instruction, donor-victims sent money to a PayPal account controlled and accessed by ALBA. When contacted by FBI Special Agents investigating fundraising and charity scams related to the Newtown tragedy, ALBA falsely stated that she did not post information related to Newtown on her Facebook account, solicit donations or recently access her PayPal account. ALBA also falsely claimed to have immediately refunded any donations that she received.
“It is unconscionable to think that the families of the victims in Newtown and a sympathetic community looking to provide them some sort of financial support and comfort have become the targets of criminals,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz. “Today’s arrest is a stern message that the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrate Internet fundraising scams, especially those scams that exploit the most vulnerable in their time of shared sorrow.”
NBC News reported last week that the scam began within an hour of the shooting. A woman wrote on her Facebook page, “All we know is 18 kids have been killed … still no word on my nephew.”
Days later, she began soliciting donations through her PayPal account, writing, “We’ve set up a funeral fund for my brother …”
NBC tracked the Facebook account to Alba, went to her home and recorded an audio interview in which she claimed someone else posted the solicitation to her Facebook account. She also claimed she had refunded any money sent to her PayPal account.
“I’m disgusted by it,” the boy’s uncle, Alexis Haller, told NBC. “I think it’s disgusting behaviour.”
U.S. Attorney David Fein said federal and state authorities “are actively monitoring the Internet and investigating multiple fundraising scams” stemming from the killings.
The FBI asks that information about Newtown-related fundraising schemes be reported to its Connecticut office at 203-777-6311.
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