A Downey used-car dealer who allegedly used voodoo-like dolls targeting the prosecutor and investigators was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for a multimillion-dollar house-buying fraud scheme.
Ruben Hernandez was accused in 2008 in a series of house purchases using fake Social Security numbers and fake bank statements that defrauded banks of about $4 million.
The U.S. Marshals Service took Hernandez into custody in February 2009 after he became involved in a high-speed chase. A search of his Pasadena home uncovered some unexpected items, authorities said.
"Investigators went into one of the bedrooms, and it was a shrine with a cross and all kinds of skeletons and stuff," said Eugene Hanrahan, an L.A. County deputy district attorney.
"The star attractions were these three effigy dolls dunked upside down in this brown liquid," he said. "One of them had my name, and the other two had the names of investigators."
Each doll had pins in its eyes, he said, and attached to the dolls was the criminal case number.
"Even the U.S. marshals were spooked," he said. Officials decided to look into the background of the shrine, with the help of a UCLA professor.
The professor said the ritual was tied to Palo Mayombe, a religion that was brought to the Caribbean during the slave trade and is known for its animal sacrifices. Over the years it gained popularity among drug dealers, who use it to put curses on their enemies. Experts believe that as many as 40,000 people in the United States may follow its rituals.
Hernandez, 34, was one of two people accused in the house-buying scheme.
Co-defendant Joel Rodriguez, 45, owner of Coast to Coast Mortgage, was found guilty of six counts of filing a false application and five counts of grand theft.?
Judge Lance Ito sentenced Hernandez to 12 years in prison and Rodriguez to 12 years, eight months.? Hernandez, however, faces an additional 28 counts, including charges of grand theft and filing a false application, for allegedly engaging in fraud at his used-car dealership.
The prosecutor said Hernandez admitted creating the dolls of his enemies but claimed the "pins were a form of spiritual acupuncture" to make them see that he was a good man.
With the trial finally over, Hanrahan said it's safe to report the apparent spells did not work. But he wasn't always that sure.
"Around the time of the preliminary hearing my left foot swelled up. It became very painful.... But it later fixed itself," Hanrahan said. "I didn't think about it at the time, until we discovered the shrine."