Belen

Four Belen women accused of operating an illegal pyramid scheme were re-indicted last week on several counts that had been dismissed by a judge. They are also facing new charges of conspiracy.

The four women, Esther Peralta, Elizabeth Saiz, Bennie Trujillo and Terri Montoya, have been accused by the attorney general’s office of taking up to $1 million in a pyramid scheme called “Women Gifting Women.”

The grand jury returned a 10-count indictment against Montoya, the daughter of Bennie Trujillo. Montoya is now facing a total of 13 criminal counts, including eight counts of violating the pyramid promotional schemes act and five counts of conspiracy to commit violations of the act.

A four-count indictment was returned against Trujillo, sister of Peralta and Saiz. Trujillo is now facing a six counts of violating the pyramid act and two counts of conspiracy.

Peralta was also indicted on four additional counts β€” two for violations of the pyramid act and two for conspiracy. Peralta now faces a total of seven felony counts, which include her earlier indictments.

The grand jury also indicted Saiz on two more counts β€” one count of violating the pyramid act and another for conspiracy. She now faces a total of five felony counts.

Earlier this year, District Court Judge William Sanchez quashed several indictment counts against all four women after testimony was missing from a grand jury tape. The judge dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning the attorney general’s office could take the case back to a grand jury for re-indictments.

“I dismissed the charges on the basis that information wasn’t available for the defense attorney to review,” Sanchez said earlier this year. “There may have been a malfunction with the recording equipment because the tape was just blank which had testimony from one of the witnesses.”

According to a press release from the attorney general’s office, 12 individuals came forward and complained of losses of about $20,000 to this group. The alleged scheme operated in Belen from October 2000 through January 2001, the press release said.

The penalty for each charge, a fourth degree felony, is up to 18 months in jail and/or a fine not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000.

If convicted, Montoya faces more than 19 years in prison, while her mother could be exposed to 12 years behind bars. Peralta could also go to jail for 10 years if convicted, and Saiz is facing seven years behind bars.

The four defendants, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges, are scheduled for trial on July 29.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.