BY JIM DOOLEY – Law enforcement had several chances to stop Ronald K. Maria’s newest flim-flam but took no action against him before it was too late, court records show.

Maria, 39, has pleaded guilty to defrauding an elderly Washington state man of $682,300 and will be sentenced in federal court next month.

Maria, of Waianae, pleaded guilty in 2002 in state court to a felony theft charge  but acceptance of the plea was deferred for five years, giving Maria a chance to clear his name if he stayed out of trouble with the law.

He was placed under the supervision of a state probation officer who reported to the court in 2008 that Maria had successfully completed his deferral term. The theft charge against him was dismissed.

But in 2006, while Maria was under supervision, federal postal authorities alleged publicly that Maria was using a Waianae post office box “in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme.”

An administrative judge banned Maria from continued use of the PO box based the results of an investigation conducted by the Postal Inspection Service, the state Office of Consumer Protection and the state Attorney General’s Office. See the ruling here: post office ruling.

The judge’s description of Maria’s activities closely parallels details of the more recent federal criminal case now pending against Maria.

“The investigation disclosed that many people received various enticements through the mail suggesting to them that they would receive large sums of money from the ‘trust fund’ of a ‘billionaire,’ if they would send certain fees” to a company operated by Maria, the administrative judge ruled January 5, 2006.

Maria described himself in some of the solicitations as “a billionaire since 1983,” the judge, Bruce R. Houston, said in his ruling.

Seven individuals complained to the Post Office that they had sent money to Maria but received nothing in return.

Maria was never charged with a crime as a result of the mid-2000’s investigations and it could not be determined if law enforcement agencies ever notified his probation officer of the allegations against Maria.

“We are not able to answer your questions because the information in the defendant’s probation file is confidential by law,” said Judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa.

The federal case lodged against Maria earlier this year alleges that he carried on his fraudulent activities after 2006 and became even more extravagant in his claims to victims.

Maria has now admitted that he “bought a list of thousands of names” of prospective victims and then “mass-mailed solicitations to participate in a special trust and trade secrets program.”

The offers “falsely stated the participants could become millionaires and receive ‘free money for life,’” Maria said in his guilty plea, signed April 27. plea agreement

An elderly man living in Washington state, identified only as “W.V.” in the court papers, “communicated extensively” with Maria beginning in 2008 and was told a series of bigger and bigger lies, the court papers demonstrate.

The victim was caring for his seriously ill wife and was concerned about his financial future.

Maria has admitted telling the man that:

  • Maria had “billions of dollars” in a trust account.
  • Maria’s “back-up trustee was the FBI.”
  • Maria was “in final negotiations with the state of Hawaii on contracts worth over $700 centillion.” (Various dictionaries define ”centillion” as the number 10 followed by 303 zeroes.)

Maria promised to include the victim in profitable deals such as “a U.S. Postal Service federal deal and deals involving gold, a casino and the development of flying cars.”

After the victim initially sent Maria $65,000, Maria told him he could increase his ”total cash-out to $77 million” if he borrowed against his home and other property and sent the money to Maria.

The victim eventually sent Maria $682,300 and even made Maria the beneficiary of his life insurance policy.

Maria admitted that he “did not intend to repay W.V’s equity loans and knew that he would not provide W.V. with $77 million, let alone any profit on W.V.’s investments.”

Maria spent the proceeds of one $300,000 wire transfer on “a $29,500 down payment on a car, personal credit card payments and cash withdrawals,” according to the guilty plea.

When contacted by Hawaii Reporter about the damage done to his victim, Maria said, “I can’t talk about that.”

Maria faces a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Olson declined to discuss the case beyond the contents of the court papers, as did the lead investigator, FBI Special Agent Tom Simon.

In the 2002 state case, Maria was charged with his mother, Mabel “Sister Elena” Maria, who earlier had helped operate one of the most notorious fraud schemes in recent Hawaii history.

In what became know as the “cargo container scam,” Mabel Maria and her co-defendants cheated hundreds of local investors out of millions of dollars in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by falsely claiming they had access to cargo containers full of surplus federal goods.

After serving a jail term for that scam, Mabel Maria was convicted in another 1995 theft case, then was indicted with her son in 2001 for bilking friends and acquaintances out of more money.

She was sentenced to a 10-year prison term and Ronald received the five-year deferred guilty plea deal.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com