Feds allege $1.2 million defrauded
LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette businesswoman has been charged with wire fraud and money laundering and accused of defrauding investors out of more than $1.2 million in a scheme involving plans to manufacture goods created from alligator hides from 2007 to 2008.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker announced in the indictment against Catherine Romero that the government is also seeking a forfeiture of the funds.
A trial is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 1.
“Ms. Romero intends to vigorously contest these charges, and looks forward to her day in court,” Romero’s attorney, Mike Skinner, wrote in an email Monday.
The indictment, filed July 26 but not unsealed until Friday, alleges Romero owned and operated three Lafayette businesses — The Ultimate Handbag Collection, The Ultimate Handbag Elite and Beyond Hidden Treasures. She was also the registered agent of CR Manufacturing, which shared her residential address at 907 Robley Drive.
The indictment alleges that Romero claimed she would put investors’ money in land and a manufacturing facility and tannery that would be built in Scott, as well as manufacturing equipment to make goods created from alligator hides.
Romero also promised to purchase an alligator farm and alligator hide tanning facility in Opelousas, the indictment says.
The funds from investments were deposited into Romero’s bank account at Regions Bank in Lafayette and Iberia Bank in New Iberia, the indictment says,
“After receiving said funds by false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, the defendant, Catherine Romero, would then pay personal bills and expenses in an unrelated business,” the indictment says.
Between March 20, 2007, and Sept. 15, 2008, Romero obtained about $1,271,000 through the scheme, the indictment says.
Romero was released from custody Friday on a $100,000 unsecured bond under the following conditions: that her travel be restricted to the Western District of Louisiana; that she not receive any money from investors for any project or entity that she has an ownership stake in; and that she avoid any contact with any of the alleged victims in the case.
The Western District of Louisiana is based in Shreveport with courthouses in Shreveport, Monroe, Lafayette, Alexandria and Lake Charles.
It covers the 42 parishes west of the Atchafalaya River not encompassed by the New Orleans-based Eastern District and the Baton Rouge-based Middle District.