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Once-rising star in Maryland GOP sentenced to 15 years for fraud

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alma Preciado for years hosted her own radio show, ran a successful mortgage business and worked to help elect Republicans in Maryland through her post as vice chairman of the state's Hispanic Republican Caucus.

Preciado even became Maryland's first Hispanic delegate to the National Republican Convention in 2000, and in a profile at the time by Capital News Service she didn't rule out a run for elected office herself.

But a single business transaction in 2005 has turned the onetime promising political figure and businesswoman into a convicted felon, a fugitive from justice and a prisoner of the state of Maryland.

Preciado, 61, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Michael J. Algeo. Punctuating how far and fast Precaido's fortunes have fallen, her public defender, Theresa Chernosky, told how Preciado is a model inmate, scrubbing jailhouse floors with a toothbrush and not missing even "the tiniest crevices."

Prosecutor Robert A. Hill said he would agree to probation rather than prison if only Preciado found a way to return $350,000 that the victims in the case, a retired couple, Roger and Lourdes Vales, had lost in a fraudulent loan deal brokered by Preciado.

But Ms. Chernosky said Preciado doesn't have the money, blaming two of Preciado's former business associates. And she said Preciado's family doesn't have the money, either. She asked the judge to free Preciado so she could work to pay back money toward the $350,000 restitution.

But Judge Algeo, agreeing with Mr. Hill, said he saw little chance of that happening. He said that Preciado already had a chance to come up with restitution in August 2009, but instead she fled to Mexico. She was captured nearly a year to the day later by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Marshals Service.

At an earlier court hearing in 2009, before Preciado fled, the judge called Preciado "Montgomery County's own little Bernie Madoff."

"I want to apologize for that," Judge Algeo said Friday. "I want to apologize to Bernie Madoff, because at least he took responsibility."

What's more, Judge Algeo said he did not believe Preciado showed any remorse. He said she continued to blame the victims. He called her "a thief, a liar, an absconder and an arrogant person who has some misplaced sense of entitlement."

When he talked of how Preciado never sought to repay the money, her son, Carlos Vasquez, stood up in the back of the courtroom.

"Sir, may I say something?" Mr. Vasquez said.

"No you may not; you may have seat," the judge replied.

After the hearing, Mr. Vasquez said that his mother had offered to pay $100,000 in cash and other assets, though in an interview Mr. Vales disputed that any such offer had been made. Mr. Vasquez also noted that his mother never had control of the bank account of Pidegro LLC, the business where the Valeses' $350,000 ultimately landed.

Preciado helped found the now defunct Pidegro. Two of her former associates, Dorita Down and William Camp, are being sued in a federal courtby the Valeses. Neither has been charged criminally.

For his part, Mr. Vales, who has spent years pursuing the case against Preciado, told Judge Algeo that Preciado had ruined the couple's retirement years. Mr. Vales, who is Hispanic, said Preciado "betrayed the Hispanic community."

In comments to the judge, Preciado admitted mistakes, though at the same time, she said the Valeses knew what they were getting into when they loaned $350,000 without collateral.

Mr. Vales and prosecutors balked at the idea, saying the couple never would have invested without collateral. They said Preciado misled the couple.

"I'm sorry the Valeses lost their money," Preciado said.

While Preciado faces a 15-year prison sentence, Mr. Hill said he would hold open the possibility of filing a motion for her release on probation if she or her family findsa way to return the money.

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