MODESTO — Same scam, different people.
A family from Fresno came to Modesto this week to pull at the heartstrings of residents with the story of a dead baby. It was the second time in a year and a half people have been arrested in Modesto on suspicion of soliciting money for the same fabricated sob story.
Modesto police Lt. Rick Armendariz said sisters Janie Barajas, 26, and Lisa Anne Barajas, 37, stood in the median of Briggsmore Avenue and Prescott Road on Tuesday afternoon, holding up a poster depicting a baby boy it identified as Daniel Lopez.
The women walked into traffic and approached drivers stopped at red lights to cheat them out of cash they said would pay for the child's funeral, Armendariz said.
A block away at Briggsmore and Sisk Road, the women's cousin Mark Damian Barajas, 35, also was soliciting money for the fake funeral, police said.
Officers Mark Weiglein and Dave Mullins approached the family, who told them the baby died in Mexico. But they couldn't answer simple questions the officers asked, such as whose son he was and how he died.
"That's when their story went awry," Armendariz said. "The gig was up."
He said the suspects admitted to getting the pictures of the boy off the Internet and said they came to Modesto from Fresno because they didn't want to be recognized. They had $400, which they told the officers they collected in one hour.
One person approached the officers while they were questioning Barajas to say he had given them money and wanted to press charges.
Weiglein and Mullins searched the suspects' car and found another sign depicting a 2-year-old girl, which police believe they also used to extort people out of money. The family had been spotted at the same location Monday.
All three were arrested and booked on suspicion of conspiracy and defrauding the public.
"It is because of the holiday season," Armendariz said. "People want to help; they want to give and, unfortunately, we have people who prey on goodwill."
He said this type of scam increases during the holiday season but can happen any time.
The same officers in June of last year arrested Tiffany Lyon of Modesto and Chasity Doll of Sun City in connection with an identical scam. The women were standing on a sidewalk near Vintage Faire Mall, waving a poster with a photograph of a baby Lyon claimed was hers.
The women are suspected of committing the same offense at three locations in Southern California and one in Arizona. Both pleaded no contest in the Modesto case.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers by sending a text message to 274637. Just type "TIP704" along with the message.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.