NEW YORK — For a San Diego teacher stealing half a million dollars was as easy as a-b-c.
Cristina Montijo, 52, a kindergarten teacher at Lafayette Elementary School, was arrested February 8, and charged with a scheme to steal money from homeowners and companies in several states from 2015 to 2016, law enforcement sources said.
Montijo posed as a real estate agent and instructed a Queens homeowner to wire $190,000 to a bank account at a San Diego credit union registered to her, sources said.
She told the man the money would be held in escrow for a home he was attempting to purchase and even included a copy of a contract of the sale, sources said.
The victim wired the funds and called his actual attorney to verify he received the money, source said.
The attorney told him he never requested a wire and the victim realized the e-mail sent from Montijo was one character off from his actual attorney’s e-mail address, sources said. He was able to stop the transfer.
She did the same thing to a homeowners in Tennessee and Hawaii, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in San Diego federal court.
Several other victims weren’t so lucky.
Montijo stole $121,791 from a homeowner in San Francisco, $250,00 from a homeowner in New Jersey and $240,000 from a homeowner in Rockland County, according to a criminal complaint.
Montijo is also accused of creating fake checks and trying to cash four checks totaling $21,000 from the Tao Group restaurant and nightclub empire and two fraudulent checks totaling $33,550 from Sony Music Group in July 2016, according to a criminal complaint.
The case was cracked by an eagle eyed detective in the NYPD’s financial crimes task force, who noticed that Montijo was funneling money she siphoned from homeowners to bank accounts registered in her own name and to her San Diego home, sources said.
She was nominated for “Lifechanger of the Year,” which recognizes teachers who make a positive difference in their student’s lives.
“She is so inspiring and her students enjoy every moment of learning because she makes her classes fun – and as a result, the kids learn more and want to learn more and more everyday,” a parent wrote.
“What a loving, amazing, caring, wonderful, beautiful human-being!”
Montijo is charged with wire and bank fraud, identity theft and forgery, sources said.
She was awaiting extradition to New York.