A New York City woman accused of lying about her connection to a victim of the Newtown school shooting to collect donations from people hungry to help after the tragedy has pleaded not guilty.
The FBI arrested Nouel Alba, 37, of the Bronx, last month and a federal grand jury returned an indictment on Tuesday charging her with making false statements to FBI agents.
NBC’s Jeff Rossen reported that Alba posted a solicitation on Facebook within hours of the shooting, identifying herself as an aunt of Noah Pozner, one of the 20 children shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14.
"My heart is entirely destroyed knowing my little man is gone," she posted on Dec. 14, according to the indictment.
As families were grieving and the nation was looking for any and every way to help the victims’ families, she asked for funds to pay for the funeral, Rossen reported.
"We've set up a funeral fund for my bother and families," she posted on Dec. 15, according to the indictment.
At Alba's instruction on the Facebook page owned by "Victorian Glam Fairys," donors sent money to a PayPal account that Alba controlled and accessed, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The indictment alleges that Alba falsely told FBI Special Agents investigating fundraising and charity scams related to the Newtown school shooting that she did not post information related to Newtown on her Facebook account, have contact with anyone about such postings, or recently access her PayPal account.
In one text to a donor, Alba wrote about being in Newtown when President Barack Obama was in town to meet with the families and of how he hugged and cried with the families, according to the complaint.
The donor asked Alba if she was watching the president's speech in person.
According to the complaint, she responded: "No im sitting in my car. Emotionally I cant (sic) deal.with it right now ..tomorrow ill see (redacted) in a casket and that will be hard enough to handle."
She also claimed in a phone conversation to the same donor that she had entered the crime scene to identify her nephew's body after the shooting, according to the complaint. Family members and next of kin, however, were barred from entering the crime scene at Sandy Hook.
Alexis Haller, the uncle of Noah Pozner, told Rosen that Alba is not related to the family and never gave the family any of the funds raised.
“This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from this tragedy by contriving fraudulent schemes that exploit the many victims, their families and individuals who sincerely want to help,” stated U.S. Attorney David Fein. “Investigators continue to monitor the Internet to uncover other fundraising scams arising from this tragedy, and the individuals operating them face federal or state prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
Alba was charged with lying to FBI agents and released on a $50,000 bond.
“Investigators continue to monitor the Internet to uncover other fundraising scams arising from this tragedy, and any individuals who attempt to profit through these schemes will be prosecuted,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said in a statement.
The case has been moved to Hartford and jury selection is expected to begin in March.
Attorney General George Jepsen is advising people to be careful and avoid phone and e-mail solicitations, as well as those posted on Facebook.
On Dec. 19, and state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein issued a warning for residents to beware of potential scams and urging only to donate to well-known, established charities.
“This is a time of mourning for the people of Newtown and for our entire state,” Jepsen said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it’s also a time when bad actors may seek to exploit those coping with this tragedy. We are very thankful for all of the offers to help and urge those looking for ways to help to take some simple precautions to ensure that their donations will find their way to those in need.”
Jepsen and Rubenstein warned that social media sites could perpetuate scams and residents should not blindly donate to through them.
“As with any charity, investigate the groups behind such pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization,” they warn.
Individuals with knowledge of Newtown-related fundraising schemes are encouraged to call the FBI in Connecticut at 203-777-6311.
Fein said potential federal charges associated with fraudulent fundraising and charity schemes include wire fraud, access device fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property.