BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A New York City woman pleaded guilty Thursday to engaging in a fraudulent fundraising scheme in which she posed as the aunt of a child killed in the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
Nouel Alba, 37, of the Bronx, pleaded guilty in Bridgeport, Conn., to wire fraud and making false statements, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Starting on the day of the shootings, authorities say, Alba used Facebook, email, text messages and telephone calls to falsely claim to be the aunt of a child who had been killed. They say she made up details about the aftermath of the shooting to solicit donations for a "funeral fund" on behalf of the child's family and the families of other victims of the shooting, in which a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six educators.
As part of the scheme, authorities say Alba also emailed school PTA officers and then touted her fictional personal relationship with the PTA to support her false claim and induce donors to send her money.
Such scams corrode the trust and generosity of everyone, said acting U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly.
"While we believe that this case has had a deterrent effect on other potential bad actors, individuals who ignore this warning and operate these schemes face federal or state prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law," Daly said.
Prosecutors say Alba also lied to FBI agents about her activities. The total amount donated was less than $5,000 and was returned after donors discovered her misrepresentations, authorities said.
"While there wasn't a substantial loss of money in this investigation, there were losses beyond any pecuniary measure," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz.
"Ms. Alba's actions caused undue sadness and harm to those already suffering and to those involved with running legitimate and caring charities. While her guilty plea is just, our thoughts today are with the victims of the Newtown tragedy and their families and friends."
Alba, who has been released on a $50,000 bond since her arrest Dec. 27, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29. She faces up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud count and up to five years for making false statements.
Alba claimed to have met and cried with President Barack Obama at a prayer service for the victims and to have identified her nephew's body, authorities said.
Telephone and email messages left for her attorneys were not immediately returned.