SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - Several women from Hong Kong were arrested at San Francisco International Airport in connection with a scam to rob elderly Asian women of jewelry and cash.
San Francisco police have linked the suspects to an organized crime ring responsible for similar robberies in other major U.S. cities.
Lirong Lin, 57, Caiqiong Chen, 43, and Huifei Lin, 42, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of grand theft, extortion and elder financial abuse. Lirong and Huifei Lin are also being held on out of state warrants, according to police.
Two other women who were with the suspects, Feiyan Wu, 45, and Qinying Ke, 47, were also arrested on out-of-state warrants at the airport while a sixth woman was detained but later released.
KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:
The women were arrested on May 10 at SFO on a stopover from New York to Hong Kong carrying $50,000 in apparently stolen cash and jewelry, police announced Thursday.
Commander Mike Biel said investigators have just begun to unravel the extent of the scam, which also has apparent victims in Boston, Chicago and New York.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find other cities in the near future. We’re in the early stages of this huge investigation,” he said.
San Francisco police first warned the public about the scam in March.
According to police, elderly Asian women were approached on the street and convinced to put money and valuables in a bag for a ceremony. The women are told the ceremony will rid their families of bad spirits. The thieves then ran off with the bags, police said.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said the arrests “have tremendously impacted this organized crime ring” and said he hoped more victims will come forward or be aware of suspects trying a similar scam.
“If the deal seems too good to be true, or there’s pressure put on you that something has to happen right now with your property or finances … there’s something wrong with that,” he said.
District Attorney George Gascon promised aggressive prosecution of those cases. So far, three of the women arrested have been charged in connection with stealing more than $100,000 in cash and jewelry from five of the victims.
Gascon called the case “a classic bait and switch scam” and said it highlighted the issue of elder abuse, which he called “a real problem in our community.”
“There is a great likelihood that there will be other victims out there,” Gascon said, urging anyone with information to come forward.
Thirteen of the 25 victims identified so far are elderly, defined by police as age 65 or older.
Huifei Lin, Caiqiong Chen and Lirong Lin were arraigned on various charges on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty.
Huifei Lin faces four counts of grand theft, five counts of extortion, three counts of defrauding an elder and one count each of robbery and causing injury to an elder, all felonies, and is being held on $740,000, prosecutors said.
Caiqiong Chen and Lirong Lin have each been charged with seven felonies—three counts of grand theft, three counts of extortion and a count of defrauding an elder. They are each being held in lieu of $495,000 bail apiece, according to the district attorney’s office.
The trio is scheduled to return to court on June 14 to set a preliminary hearing date.
Anyone who may have been a victim of the scam is encouraged to call Inspectors Kim Lewis or Julie Yee of the Police Department’s financial crimes unit at (415) 553-1521.
Police have also established a tip line to provide information in Cantonese at (415) 553-9212.
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