Nelly Diaz muttered a quiet “Bueno, bueno,” after the man who had swindled her out of $4,000 was ordered by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Friday to repay thousands of dollars to her and 13 other victims.
She had paid him $2,000 to help her obtain a license, and another $2,000 to obtain one for her daughter, Honey, she said.
Jose Luis Ventura, of the 4100 block of Minnesota Ave. in the District, told Diaz and 24 other victims that he would help them get Maryland driver’s licenses, according to his charging documents.
He found his victims by putting notices up in stores, through word of mouth, or by approaching them directly, said Blanca Kling, the Montgomery County Police’s Hispanic Liaison.
He told them he would need various forms of identification in order to obtain drivers’ licenses, according to documents provided by the State’s Attorney’s Office. He would then collect money from the victims, and travel to the Maryland Vehicle Administration, where he would tell them to wait in their cars and be escorted into the MVA one by one, according to the documents.
He would then take their money without providing ID’s.
“It’s a sad case for everyone involved, my client and the victims,” said Mariana Cordier, Ventura’s lawyer. “This is an example of bad laws in the immigration and ID acts, which require individuals to provide proof of citizenship to get a valid ID.”
She added: “To deny a whole population a driver’s license based on status, I think that’s not acceptable.”
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ann Harrington sentenced Ventura to five years in prison and five and a half years of probation, as well as paying $25,490 in restitution to his victims.
He was also charged with illegally owning a handgun, possession of false IDs, and making a straw purchase.
“Justice was served, the restitution was appropriate, and the jail time was also appropriate,” State’s Attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff said after the sentencing.
“I believe the victims are going to be made whole, and the criminals that prey on people that speak the same language and have the same cultural affinities must be held accountable for their actions,” he said.
State’s Attorney John McCarthy called the case part of a continued effort to reach out to the Hispanic community that is “systematically victimized.” “Victims are victims,” he said, adding that “there is protection for everybody that lives in this community.”
Diaz testified in court that she had trouble getting a license because she cannot read or write. She said Ventura told her that his wife and a friend worked at the MVA and could help her obtain a license. Because he said his wife and friends worked at the MVA, she believed the license she was receiving would be legal, she said.
He told her to meet him in the MVA parking lot, she said, where she waited from 9:30 that morning until 7:30 p.m. without anything to eat or drink, or even going to the bathroom.
“We waited and waited,” she said.
She finally realized he’d scammed her. She remembered thinking, “’Oh my God, why’d he do this...how many people has he robbed?’”
Diaz, who works cleaning houses, said it took her six months to save up the money. After the sentencing, she said she still felt bothered by the whole situation.
“But it’s important that he accepted his error,” she said.
His actions “weren’t just,” she said.
Ventura’s other victims told similar stories -- of being given a phone number, of handing over more than $1,500 in cash, and then receiving nothing.
“I feel well, because I’ll get my money back -- it’ll take time, but I’ll get it back,” Edvino Alcantara, another of Ventura’s victims, said in Spanish.
“There shouldn’t be people like him, but that’s life.”
Ventura’s girlfriend, Desiree Alvarado, was also charged in the scheme, and is scheduled to be sentenced in February.