‘Sweetheart Swindler’ at it again | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Sweetheart Swindler’ at it again

Christina Proctor

Her taste of freedom was brief. Margaret “Venus” Loeo, dubbed the “sweetheart swindler” by police investigators, once again is facing charges that she bilked an elderly man out of his life savings.

Two months after Loeo, 23, was released on probation from the Douglas County Jail, she and her mother, Anna Loeo were arrested in the Los Angeles area. They were picked up Friday on a Sacramento County warrant, charging them with elder abuse, grand theft, and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Detective Jan Cater, of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, said the Loeos befriended 83-year-old Charles Hunt and then proceeded to clean out the man’s bank account.

“They used the exact same scheme as they did with the victim in Douglas County,” Cater explained. “Venus told Mr. Hunt she needed money for a surgery and then she disappeared. Anna then got money from him for her interior design company and for refurbishing her home. They took roughly $250,000 from Mr. Hunt.”

Margaret Loeo pleaded guilty Dec. 7 in Douglas County District Court to obtaining money under false pretenses from 82-year-old Stateline resident Anthony Brusca. Her prison sentence of one to six years was suspended and Loeo was placed on a five-year probation. She was ordered to pay Brusca $91,908 in restitution, in monthly payments of $500. One of the conditions of her probation was to stay away from Brusca and all male non-relatives over the age of 65. Sgt. Detective Tim Minister, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, said he doesn’t believe these new charges will affect Loeo’s probation because the alleged crimes took place before her conviction.

“It seems that Venus went right from Mr. Brusca to Mr. Hunt,” Minister said.

Brusca gave money to Loeo, her then husband, Steve Yonko, and his mother Diane Yonko, from 1994 to 1997.

Cater praised the Douglas County prosecutors and Minister in particular.

“It was their tenaciousness and willingness to prosecute that made our case possible,” she said.

Cater said Hunt was unwilling to prosecute the Loeos at first because he feared for his personal safety. Loeo’s conviction in Nevada changed the senior’s mind. Hunt wrote a letter to Minister before Loeo’s sentencing about his own experience. He described being taken into the Loeos’ household in Sacramento and being repeatedly told he was one of the family. Hunt said he and Margaret even discussed marriage, and there was talk of him moving into the home after a remodel was finished.

Hunt told Minister that Margaret disappeared after he borrowed money to finance a kidney stone surgery for her. He continued his friendship with Anna in hopes of finding her daughter.

“I never did locate her. I was forced to admit to myself that she had taken my money and skipped out,” Hunt wrote. “That was precisely what had happened.”

Hunt said Anna talked him into obtaining credit cards in several stores with the promise that she would make all the payments. Hunt said Anna charged the cards to the limit and refused to pay leaving him with the debt.

Both Brusca and Hunt were featured with two other men with similar stories in connection with the Loeo family in an NBC Dateline segment titled, “Let me call you sweetheart,” which aired in November 1997. Cater said she believes Sacramento County’s case against the Loeos is strong, bolstered by Margaret’s previous conviction in Nevada.

“It shows a pattern of conduct and behavior,” she said. “These cases are hard to prosecute. Often the victims aren’t even aware that what has been done to them is illegal. They feel foolish, and because of their age sometimes it doesn’t come to light until after they die or after their mental capacities are diminished by illness.”

Minister said he hopes the pattern will be stopped.

“I just want the truth to come to light,” he said. “This is something that shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”

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