CLEVELAND, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- A Cleveland judge sentenced a Tampa, Fla., woman to five years in prison for bilking donors to a phony veterans charity whose founder remains at large.
Blanca Contreras, 39 -- who admitted falsifying documents and cashing nearly $500,000 in checks from fraudulent U.S. Navy Veterans Association accounts -- wept as Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula handed down the sentence, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reported.
After completing the sentence, Contreras faces five years of court-supervised release and could face deportation to Mexico, the newspaper said.
She has lived in the United States since she was 5.
Contreras pleaded guilty in June to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated theft, money laundering and tampering with records in connection with her four-year involvement with the sham veterans organization, which Sutula called "a criminal enterprise of mammoth proportions."
Contreras public defender Walt Edwards had argued his poorly educated client was manipulated by Navy Veterans' founder "Bobby Thompson," who was later discovered to have stolen that identity from a Washington state man.
But Ohio Assistant Attorney General Brad Tammaro said Contreras continued to siphon money out of Navy Veterans accounts for about eight months after Thompson disappeared in late 2009, so "she had more of an active role than what has been admitted by the defense."
Thompson, whose real name is unknown, is being sought nationally under an arrest warrant. The charity, which claimed to support Navy veterans and their families, actually pocketed the lion's share of the donations, the Times said.
It claimed more than 66,000 members and a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., but it had no members and its address was actually a rented post office box at a United Parcel Service mail-drop office, the Times initially reported in a March 2010 investigative series.
Forty-three state offices were also UPS mail drops, the Times said.
The association has since been removed as a charity by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service.
"Bobby Thompson picked his victim well," said another Contreras lawyer, William Thompson. "She was his mark, who felt obliged to help military personnel. Then it spiraled down into what it's become. She's the only game in town. She's the only one standing before the court."
Contreras's oldest son, Arturo Siquentes, 22, is a U.S. Army specialist stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.