Alice's Ramirez also ordered to pay families $20K

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

An Alice woman who was convicted of wire fraud and mail fraud after she attained money and property from people seeking to adopt a child was sentenced to prison Wednesday and has been ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in restitution to her victims, the U.S. Attorney General's Office announced last week.

According to a press release issued by U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle, Belinda Ramirez, 25, of Alice, was sentenced Wednesday by United States District Judge Janis Graham Jack to a total of 24 months in federal prison, without parole, for falsely promising to give her non-existent baby up for adoption to a number of families in exchange for money and other items of value.

The court has ordered that the federal prison sentence will run consecutive to any sentence imposed by the state of Texas, which is seeking to revoke a probationary sentence imposed for a prior conviction, DeGabrielle said.

Defense attorney Mark DiCarlo protested the sentence Thursday, and said the judge had not abided by the agreement reached between the two parties.

"Belinda entered into a plea bargain that based on the federal sentencing guidelines that if she pled guilty she would receive the lower end of the sentencing guidelines," DiCarlo said. "The judge computed those guidelines to be between 18 and 24 months, and the judge then gave her 24 months, which was not at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines."

DiCarlo said he also disputed the calculation of those guidelines, and thought they should have been lower.

Also at Wednesday's hearing, the court determined that Ramirez had scammed a total of 10 or more victims between August 2005 and May 2006.

Judge Jack ordered Ramirez to pay restitution in the amount of $19,627 to the individuals she victimized as a result of her scheme.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney General's office, the restitution involves reimbursement to the victims for money grams, cash, gift cards, meals, "adoption/legal fees," and costs associated with the travel by at least one family to Corpus Christi to attend the reported birth of their soon-to-be adopted child.

DiCarlo disagreed with that assertion Thursday, and said most of the reimbursement would be paid to attorneys hired by the families of the alleged victims.

Ramirez, who has been in federal custody since her arrest in May 2006 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will remain in federal custody in Corpus Christi pending her transfer to a U. S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined on a later date.

Ramirez was convicted in October 2006 after pleading guilty to interstate wire fraud and mail fraud arising from a scheme she devised in which she contacted families via Internet adoption sites, falsely claimed to be pregnant and offered to give her unborn baby to that family.

During these contacts Ramirez used various aliases, she described herself and the baby's father, provided details regarding a pregnancy, sent photographs and told the families she had selected them to adopt her as yet unborn child, officials with the U.S. Attorney General's office said. Most of the couples contacted reportedly had their adoptive parent profiles listed on Internet Web sites. Ramirez contacted prospective adoptive families in Florida, California, New York, Ohio, Colorado and Washington.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney General's office, as part of the scheme, Ramirez provided her address in Alice and a cellular telephone number. In some instances, the families were asked to add money to a specified Wal-Mart gift card to allow Ramirez to purchases items she claimed she needed for her pregnancy, including medication.

Some of the families did, depositing amounts ranging from $150 to $500. Others would send new gift cards or other items to Ramirez's residence as instructed. In yet another instance, a prospective adoptive family acting on instructions sent about $1,762 in mailgrams and a new cellular telephone to Ramirez. During the relevant time period, Ramirez was not pregnant.

A search of Ramirez's home in late March 2006 resulted in the discovery of empty packages sent via US Mails or FedEx by prospective adoptive families from Florida and New York.

A search of Ramirez's home computer files revealed images consistent with those sent to adoptive families.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in coordination with the Alice Police Department and the Texas Rangers. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Elsa Salinas Patterson.

DiCarlo said his client has not yet decided whether to file an appeal to the judge's ruling.