MANILA, September 13, 2003 (STAR) By Aurea Calica  - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed 30 counts of syndicated estafa against seven persons accused of duping at least 20 people to invest with a holding company allegedly under a so-called pyramid scheme.

In a six-page resolution, State Prosecutor Jose Gumagas said charges of violation of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code would be filed with the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court against Ervin Mateo and Evelyn Mateo, owners of the Mateo Management Group Holdings Co.

Estafa charges will also be filed against Brenda Baarde, Romeo Esteban, Estela Ledesma, Emma Sacro and Joselito Zapanta, all officers of the MMG group, for having allegedly conspired in "carrying out unlawful acts of soliciting funds from the general public and misappropriated the same."

No bail was recommended for their release since syndicated estafa, an act committed by at least three people, is punishable with life imprisonment to death.

The complainants said the respondents, through their agents, enticed them to invest with the MMG Holdings Co. which would supposedly earn for them high interest in a short period of time and can be withdrawn any time upon demand.

But after receiving the investment, the Mateo group gradually ceased their operations and eventually close their office and allegedly went into hiding.

"In the instant case, it is crystal clear that respondents through deceit have lured the complainants to invest their money. There is deceit when one is misled, either by guide or trickery or by other means, to believe what is true and what is really false," the resolution stated. "The failure of MMG Holdings despite demands to return said investments, makes them liable for estafa under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code."

Records showed that the MMG managed to collect more than P5 million in investments from their victims. The victims said MMG issued them checks as payments or interest, but the checks were not honored by the bank because the company’s account was already closed.

The complainants said they repeatedly demanded for the return of their money, but the respondents allegedly just ignored them.

The victims said they later found out that the respondents abandoned their office and could not be found.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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