April 23, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

Sixteen individuals have been indicted for syndicated estafa for allegedly duping and carting away millions from individuals from Baguio and its environs who were lured to invest money with an offer or promise of high interest rates.

But such activity turned out to be an unregistered and unrecognized casino junket business which failed to pay the promised income, typical of a Ponzi scheme.

In a 27-page joint resolution issued on March 15, the Baguio City Prosecution Office recommended the filing of six separate charges of syndicated estafa filed by six sets of complainants against Hector Aldwin Pantollana aka Boss Kim and Kim Lay Liao with addresses in Cavite, Angeles City, and Metro Manila; Hubert Aldwin Pantollana aka Abet, Zeus, and Boss A; Virginio Martin Casupanan aka Martin; Hazen Humilde aka Zen and Kuya Zen; Jerry Cuapingco; Hein Humilde aka Kuya Hein; Mikaella Ty-Choi aka Mika and Mik-Mik; Mark Stephen Alzona aka Master; Charina Jane Abaeo aka Mommy Vangie and Vangie; Rosemari Humilde; Marwin Keithly Humilde; Edwin Humilde; Gracelyn Ipac aka Grasya; Keith Cassandra Humilde; Eric Dayrit; and Lyca Dayrit, most of them having addresses in Baguio City.

Complaints against seven other individuals for the same crime were dismissed due to insufficient evidence but without prejudice to the pursuance of the case in the event the complainants submit evidence sufficient for the charge to be amended to include them as accused.

Based on the resolution, the respondents, who are alleged members of “Team Z” and with Pantollana as head of Dowinn Gaomei Group casino junket business, used the Ponzi scheme, where they took investments from the public under a ruse that the investments are to be used in a casino junket business promising a high return of investment in a short period time.

Each team member allegedly performed acts intended to entice investors, according to the respective claims of the complainants.

The complainants, five of them are residents of Baguio City and one from La Trinidad, Benguet, invested and claimed to have been defrauded by members of Team Z with a total of P33.55 million, with the largest single investment alone totaling P10M from one of the complainant’s own investment and from relatives.

Most of them invested monies from 2021 until 2023, when the team also started failing to pay the promised income until the latter part of the year.

The complainants learned of the supposed business opportunity after they were either introduced to other individuals who have claimed to have invested money, interacted with some of the Team Z members, or became curious and wanted to learn more about the scheme.

They were also made to attend seminars, trainings, and events organized by the team where they were shown the successful and luxurious lifestyles of some team members and investors.

The respondents have denied the allegations, which they claimed are malicious and baseless, among other defenses.

“The machinations involved (were) so cunningly devised which based on documents alone would involve money amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos. Eventually, the alleged casino junket was discovered to be a mere ploy and the entire structure of their alleged business is a Ponzi scheme,” the joint resolution read.

Among others, a junket, according to the resolution, refers to a short-term gambling program arranged by a junket operator for one or more high-wealth players at a chosen casino. Junkets bankroll VIP clients by serving as bank-like entities, lending money to players and collecting debts and are not owned by casinos but rather are paid a commission for their services.

It was alleged the respondents as a team represented themselves to the public as owners and operators of a casino junket business with exclusive ties and operating in Solaire, Okada, City of Dreams, Resorts World, and other famous casinos in the country.

With such representation, its members collected, solicited, and sought money from the public to be invested in their casino junket operations, and promised and assured investors “ludicrous” percentages of interest while claiming their activities are sanctioned by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and that it has exclusive ties to said major casinos.

However, based on the records of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Team Z is not authorized to collect investments from the public and in fact was issued a cease and desist order in March 2023 by the same agency.

Despite the CDO, the team continued its operation and substituted the name of Pantollana with the name of Virginio Martin Casupanan in the contracts of loan which they prepare and issue when they receive investments, in an attempt to hide the fact that the former’s name is among those in the list of SEC notices.

They also made investors believe the money they collect are to be invested in a casino junket business, Dowinn Gaomei Group, which they claimed to be authorized by Pagcor and accredited by most casinos in the country, but which appeared to be neither registered with Pagcor nor recognized by the casinos.

“The complainants sufficiently explained the participation of the said respondents in the commission of the crime…The defense raised by the respondents are not enough to overcome the positive declaration of the complainants as regards their participation in the crime,” the resolution stated. 

The prosecution office also resolved that a copy of the resolution be furnished to the Anti-Money Laundering Council for investigation for possible violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.