Alleged fake banker steals thousands

A 72-year-old former Oak Harbor resident who claimed to be an international banker is accused of swindling victims out of a total of $200,000 he had promised to invest in his companies, court documents indicate.

Prosecutors charged Joseph Cortez of Vancouver, Wash., in Island County Superior Court July 15 with two counts of theft in the first degree.

Last year, an 84-year-old former Oak Harbor resident reported that Cortez had defrauded her of more than $100,000, according to a report by Lt. Mike Hawley with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

The woman said Cortez offered in 2001 to invest some of her money in his investment company, Benamar Financial, at 20 percent interest, the report states. He promised to send her regular “interest checks,” but instead offered excuses and didn’t send anything for long periods of time, Hawley wrote.

In addition, an Oak Harbor couple also reported last year that they may have been swindled by Cortez, the report shows. The couple met Cortez at an Oak Harbor church and he represented himself as an international banker with numerous investment opportunities.

Cortez agreed to invest the husband’s earnings from his contractor job in Iraq. The couple transfered a total of $100,000 to Quasar International Corporation, a Nevada company owned by Cortez, the report states.

Hawley obtained a search warrant on Cortez’s bank accounts and business records. He found that Cortez had received the money, but none of the funds were ever placed in any type of investment, according to Hawley.

“Rather, the bank records indicate that Cortez used the money to fund his day to day living expenses for the last five years, draining the account down to near zero,” Hawley wrote.

If convicted of the charges against him, Cortez could face from two to six months in jail under the standard sentencing range.

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