Anaheim PD investigator says event planner fraud case 'just beginning'
Their weddings, their quinceañeras and lots of their money were stolen from them. As one ripped-off bride held back tears at a recent midday press conference, Susie Schmidt quietly stood a few steps away, knowing the list of victims was about to get longer.
At the press conference, Schmidt, a civilian investigator in the Anaheim Police Department’s Financial Crimes Detail, asked for more victims of Byron Vinicio Sanchez to come forward, building on her current list of 16, and her case against the man who allegedly promised families fabulous events and delivered nothing.
It quickly did, with two new victims speaking to Schmidt before the camera crews had left.
Sanchez, who was arrested June 28 on three counts of grand theft and three counts of theft by false pretense, is being held at Orange County Jail without bail while Schmidt continues to build her case against him. She believes there could be as many as 40 victims in California and Oregon.
Her investigation began last fall, when two cases were brought to Schmidt’s attention. The victims told her they were at first turned away by police because it appeared to only be a civil case. But as cases mounted, Schmidt saw a pattern of intent: Sanchez allegedly would take cash deposits between $6,000 and $15,000 for event planning and lay out assembly halls, dress packages, decorations, photography, food, limousine services and more — essentially, everything families and brides-to-be could want for their big events.
“It looked legit,” Alma Velazquez said. “We found out the night before the wedding nothing was paid for.”
Velazquez’s family, like other victims, then paid as much as double their original costs to pull events together at the last minute.
When one of the victims appeared on a Univision news segment, Schmidt contacted the reporter and used the clip and script from the segment to strengthen the case and help her persuade the district attorney’s office to consider it.
More victims quickly appeared, but Schmidt was at first unable to convince all of them to make a report, possibly because of their immigration status. Eventually, she persuaded them and the official victims list grew to five.
By spring of this year, the case was ready for the DA and charges were filed. But finding Sanchez wasn’t easy. He used different aliases and there was nothing in his real name. He had no driver’s license and might not even be a U.S. citizen.
Nevertheless, Schmidt found the word was spreading about Sanchez via social media. At the same time, Orange County vendors who originally associated with him began to tire of Sanchez’s empty promises to them as well, Schmidt said, forcing him to move on to Huntington Park.
Schmidt got a tip from the owner of Passarela’s Boutique in Huntington Park that Sanchez drove a car she bought for him and spent long hours at her boutique. He could likely be found there.
Anaheim PD’s Crime Task Force arrested him at the boutique soon after. Things then began to snowball, with victim after victim coming forward. Currently, 10 of the 16 cases are in Orange County.
“Now it’s gaining momentum,” she said. “I’m finding two to three new victims a week.”
Schmidt said she will file each new case separately “no matter how many come forward. I want him to do the jail time.”
It’s possible Sanchez could be released for time served after his next hearing Nov. 2, but Schmidt intends to pile on many more charges long before then. Anaheim police are asking anyone who might be one of Sanchez’s victims to contact Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS or occrimestoppers.org with information.
“This,” Schmidt said, “is actually the beginning of the story.”