TORRANCE (CBSLA.com) — Bank managers are not often hailed as heroes.
But the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is praising the commercial manager of the Bank of the West’s South Bay branch in Torrance as a hero for stopping an extensive scam that would have bilked a 74-year-old, non-English speaking woman out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A certificate of commendation from Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell praised Teruichi “Terry” Horikawa for his dedication, commitment and professionalism.
“Your keen perception, diligence and immediate action not only protected the elder’s assets, but were instrumental in the advancement of the successful criminal investigation,” the commendation stated.
When a longtime customer said she was considering an investment in the spring of 2014, Horikawa became concerned about her financial security, according to the sheriff’s department, as well as the fact that she was of Japanese descent and spoke limited English.
He arranged a lunch meeting with her and the person providing information about the investment, then later advised her against the investment until she could get advice from her children, who are fluent in English and would better understand the investment and any documents related to it.
The customer came into the bank on Sept. 9, 2014 with a man and a woman of East Indian descent, who had completed paperwork that would transfer about $200,000 from the customer’s bank account into the account of the company owned by the man and woman. When Horikawa checked the records, he saw that another $200,000 had already been transferred into the customer’s bank account from an escrow company, indicating she had refinanced her property in order to make the investment.
The customer returned to the bank branch three days later with the previous woman and another East Indian woman. During this visit, the first woman presented Horikawa with a documenting she had been granted power of attorney, which was notarized by the second woman, authorizing her to make financial decisions on behalf of the customer.
Neither of the East Indian women spoke Japanese and he knew his customer did not speak English, so Horikawa began speaking to her in Japanese to determine whether she knew what was happening. It turned out that the customer did not know anything about the company she was investing in, the specifics of the investment or the refinance of her property.
As the customer and the two women waited, Horikawa called Bank of the West fraud investigators, who then contacted .A. County sheriff’s fraud and cyber crimes investigators. Elder fraud detectives immediately investigated and stopped the wire transfer, sheriff’s officials said.
When investigators later learned the woman had already “invested” $80,000 with the company, they identified the bank account belonging to the company and received authorization to freeze the funds. Authorities believe they will ultimately be able to recover the woman’s $80,000 “investment.”
Detectives have since served more than 10 search warrants and court orders and seized thousands of documents.
The year-long investigation, which is still in progress, now involves the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and California Department of Business Oversight and is now under review by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, according to officials.