Pinay in Toronto investment scam sentenced

By Anne Wong, ABS-CBN Canada

Posted at May 13 2014 04:07 PM | Updated as of May 14 2014 12:07 AM

TORONTO – A Filipina who masterminded a $450,000 investment scam that victimized other Filipinos has been sentenced.

Rowena Villanueva pleaded guilty to 16 counts of fraud. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus two years of probation.

In 2010, Villanueva told prospects that she had built a physiotherapy rehab group in Toronto.

She promised a guarantee of five to 15 percent monthly return on their investment. But there was no business base, no clients, and no ability to maintain business.

The victims lost more than $450,000, the money that Villanueva used for personal purposes.

"To give up hard earned cash where you have to give up your line of credit, mortgage your home, borrow from a variety of people within your family to invest, that is a clear sign that this investment should not be done," said Detective Gail Regan of the Toronto Police-Financial crimes Unit.

Liberty Aqui, one of the victims, said she couldn't find herself to pity Villanueva.

"Nung marinig ko yung binabasa, parang hindi ko nakuha yung sarili ko na maawa sa kanya kasi sa dami ng tao na niloko niya, hindi yan mababayaran ng iyak-iyak lang eh. Hindi yung iyak-iyak lang at saka idinadahilan yung sakit nung asawa. Hindi pwede yung ganun," Aqui said.

Villanueva gained her victims' trust by claiming it was her second chance to do good as a cancer survivor.

She was also actively involved with church. Many of her victims are still paying for borrowed money that was lost.

"I'm glad nasintensiya sya. Ang unang inaano nila ay house arrest, that's no, no, no...hindi house arrest. Ang gusto ko nga at least five years pa," said Gloria Gahunia, another fraud victim.

The judges said the gravity of her offence is very serious as it was not only reckless, but also intentional. It was a large scale fraud where Villanueva was content in using others to advance her purposes.

She is to continue with counseling for her post traumatic stress disorder and pathological gambling.

A crying and very apologetic Villanueva promises that she's on the road to redemption and rehabilitation.