Jury Finds Defendant Guilty for Blessing Scam Case #3

For Immediate Release
July 3, 2013

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167 or (415) 740-5134
ADA Alex Bastian, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1931

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – District Attorney George Gascón announced today that a jury convicted Cui Qun Zhu, age 51, of 6 felonies and 1 misdemeanor for scamming two victims in two separate blessing scam incidents.

“This verdict sends a powerful message that San Francisco will aggressively prosecute those who prey on our elders. With successful prosecution and continued public education on prevention, we can put a stop to blessing scams,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “Thank you to the FBI, the SFPD, and especially members of the Chinese community who came forward to help with the prosecution of this case.”

According to court documents, on July 8, 2012, the first victim was scammed by the defendant in Chinatown of $900. On July 9, 2012, the second victim was scammed by the defendant in the Richmond district of $1800 and a pearl necklace. On July 14, 2012, the second victim saw the defendant and a co-conspirator in the Richmond district and ran after them. The second victim was able to grab the co-conspirator’s purse which had a camera containing the defendant’s picture, and a phone number that led to a shuttle driver in Los Angeles who identified a travel agency the defendant had used. Both victims identified the defendant in a photo lineup.

The blessing scam is sometimes called the “ghost scam”, or “jewelry scam”. Scammers are targeting middle-aged to elderly Chinese women who are walking alone in busy shopping areas. Scammers, who are also Chinese, travel in teams of three but approach potential victims separately so they can strategically corner their target. The woman is told a ghost followed her home and now someone in her family is in danger. She is then told the only way to protect her family member is to perform a “blessing ritual”. The woman is instructed to put cash and jewelry in a bag and meet the scammers at a designated location. The scammers pretend to perform a blessing, but switch the bags while the woman isn’t looking. The woman is instructed not to open the bag for a period of time, not knowing her cash and jewelry are gone.

The trial was in front of Judge Angela Bradstreet. The jury found the defendant guilty of 2 counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, 2 counts of extortion, 1 count of conspiracy to commit grand theft by false pretenses, 1 count of grand theft, and 1 count of misdemeanor petty theft. The defendant will be sentenced on September 6, 9 a.m. in Department 14.

The conviction of Cui Qun Zhu is the result of a first-rate investigation by the FBI, Inspector Kim Lewis of SFPD, Officers Sam Yuen, Eddie Wu, and Ed Hwang of SFPD, and District Attorney Investigator Jason Collum. Binh Tran was the Victim Advocate. Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Wagner prosecuted the case.