Senior swindel takes elderly man for life savings
Anthony Brusca thought he was helping a young woman in need. A devout Catholic, the single 81-year-old lives alone in Stateline.
In October 1994, Brusca went out to lunch – a usual occurrence. As he was leaving the Horizon Casino Resort a dark-haired young woman approached him and tried to strike up a conversation. Brusca, thinking she was an employee of the casino, declined and left.
A month later as he was standing at a crosswalk he felt a tap on his shoulder – it was the woman from the casino. That tap would end up costing Brusca almost a quarter of a million dollars.
Over a period of two and half years Brusca would give away his life savings and investments believing he was helping a woman – he knew as Venus Milo – first to get started in business and then to pay for critical life-saving operations.
Investigators believe Brusca was the victim of a “sweetheart swindle,” perpetrated by members of a American Gypsy family based in the Bay Area. Brusca was featured with four other similar victims in an NBC Dateline segment titled, “Let me call you sweetheart,” which aired in November 1997.
Brusca said it was the realization that Venus might have done this to other elderly gentlemen that pushed him to report his situation to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and seek prosecution.
In February, Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Alan Buttell filed criminal complaints against Venus Milo, (also known as Valerie Demetro, Margaret Venus Loeo and Margaret Loeo); Bazil Willious, (a.k.a. Steve Milo); and Doris Milo, (a.k.a. Diana Yonko, Diana Wayne), alleging that all three conspired to deceive Brusca into believing Venus was emotionally and physically attracted to him for the ultimate purpose of defrauding him out of money and goods. Arrest warrants for all three were issued Feb. 3 with bails set at $150,000.
Venus Milo was arrested in Hayward, Calif., at a civil child custody hearing on March 16. Her bail was raised by a judge in the Hayward Municipal Court to $220,000 cash only, after the judge heard testimony from investigators that after the Dateline episode aired it had been difficult to locate the suspects. Venus waived extradition on Wednesday and authorities expect she will be arraigned on the charges in Douglas County Justice Court early next week. If convicted on all charges she faces a maximum of 12 years in state prison.
Steve Milo, who Brusca knew as Venus’ brother, investigators believe he was actually her husband, is still at large. Doris Milo, who Brusca thought was Venus’s mother, is also still at large. Investigators believe she is actually Steve’s mother.
Brusca told Douglas County Sgt. Detective Tim Minister that Venus Milo claimed to be an interior decorator. She allegedly asked Brusca for a loan to complete a large contract in Hawaii. Brusca gave her $21,000. It was just the beginning.
Brusca told investigators that Venus called him at his residence every day from Hawaii. They talked about how the work was going and when her contract would be completed, but she would never tell him where she was in Hawaii. Brusca said when he suggested calling her she told him there were no phones where she was staying.
“It wasn’t a love affair or anything like that,” Brusca said. “It was just about helping somebody.”
Brusca then received a call from Doris, who told him Venus was ill and returning home for a needed operation. Brusca said, at Steve’s urging, he rented an apartment for Venus at the 3600 block of Birch Avenue in South Lake Tahoe.
Doris allegedly told Brusca that Venus was suffering from an unknown type of tumor and she had no medical insurance. Doris said Venus needed cash to pay for an operation at University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. Brusca took money from his savings and obtained a loan against his stocks to pay Venus’s medical expenses.
“If it was legitimate it would have been great. That’s the best thing you can do with your money – to save somebody’s life,” Brusca said. “I really got buffaloed.”
Investigators say Venus never needed an operation. The hoax reportedly continued with increased pressure when Brusca balked at paying for a second operation. Brusca said he met with all three at the South Lake Tahoe apartment. Venus allegedly complained of being ill and spitting up blood. Brusca said she asked him “Do you want to see the blood?”
Brusca told investigators that statement sent him out of control. He left the apartment and immediately sold more of his stock to obtain the needed $73,000 for a second operation.
The following day, Venus allegedly asked Brusca to notarize a note, stating the $73,000 he had given her was a gift. Although he signed it, Brusca said he realized then that it had all been a fraud.
Still Brusca continued to give Venus money. He said she threatened to kill herself when he first refused her request for $4,000 to buy a video camcorder – he capitulated.
“I was doing all that stuff and I don’t know why,” Brusca admitted. “If she had these tumors and the operations made her well it would be money well spent.
“I’d never seen a woman as beautiful as that woman was,” Brusca said. “She could have gone to Hollywood and made lots of money. God made her a beautiful person, but she was ugly inside.”
Brusca said Venus disappeared out of his life after he told Steve and Doris that he needed Venus to cancel the note indicating the money he had given her was a gift. Brusca was going to have to pay the government $10,000 in gift taxes. She did meet with him to sign a paper canceling the first note and then she was gone.
Brusca said he continued to contact Steve and Doris who told him Venus was missing.
In December of 1995 Venus agreed to sign a promissory note to Brusca for $212,908. In April of 1997 Brusca met with Steve and Doris at the Atlantis Casino in Reno. He said the pair pressured him into signing a release of claims on the note saying that Venus would lose her children if he didn’t sign.
At the same time, Brusca received a $20,000 promissory note from Steve. The note states Steve would pay Brusca $1,000 immediately and $150 per month until the principal was paid. Brusca said he has only received $150 from Steve.
“I can live on my pension and social security,” Brusca said regarding his current financial situation. “I never had any children so that money was going to go to my niece’s children.”
This is not the first “sweetheart swindle” that investigators have attached to American Gypsies. The Alameda County District Attorney’s office has been investigating the Loeo family in Sacramento – which they believe Venus is a member of – for connections with scams on elderly men for some time.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office is prosecuting members of the Tene Bimbos family, a clan documented in Peter Mass’s best-selling novel “King of the Gypsies.”
Investigators believe that Angela Bufford, her mother, Mary Steiner, and her longtime boyfriend, George Lama, preyed on elderly men for more than a decade. Prosecutors claim that once Bufford and her mother convinced the men, usually widowers, to sign over their belongings they would allegedly poison their victims with a heart drug made from the leaves of the foxglove plant.
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