FARMINGTON — Farmington police arrested a 36-year-old woman last week for allegedly collecting money from local businesses for a fake charity that she said benefited local children.
Shawna Tobin, of Aztec, was arrested Nov. 13 and charged with third-degree felony fraud.
A three-month investigation revealed Tobin collected more than $6,000 from 16 local businesses on behalf of Get Strong a charity organization police believe doesn't exists, Farmington police Sgt. Brandon Lane said in a press release.
The fraud dates back to August 2011, according to police.
It's unclear how many businesses contributed to Tobin's cause. Police have identified at least 16 victims but the investigation is ongoing, said Detective Robert Pimentel.
Tobin allegedly sent flyers to businesses asking for $200 for a back-to-school shopping event for needy children. She also persistently chased down donations from local businesses by emailing, calling and showing up in person on behalf of Get Strong, according to court documents.
Tobin allegedly gave the businesses a variety of reasons she needed donations.
She said she needed money to help a family of five children who ate dog food and hadn't been to school in two years and a 13-year-old who had medical problems because of incest.
She said donations would help Get Strong host a back-to-school shopping trip for 1,611 children this year, according to court documents.
She also told potential donors that in 2012 Get
Police have yet to find any person who benefited from the organization or any additional people who are affiliated with it. Get Strong is not a registered Farmington business, according to court documents.
Reached briefly on Monday, Tobin declined to comment and Steve Murphy, her attorney, did not return a phone call made Monday.
Tobin is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 28. She has bonded out of jail after posting a $25,000 cash or surety bond.
One of the primary victims in the alleged fraud said she was shocked to learn Get Strong may be a hoax.
"We just felt it was to a good cause," said Michele Lucero, who donated money to Tobin's company. "It seemed legitimate. We had no reason to think otherwise."
Michele and Kevin Lucero own Magic Roofing. The business donated to Tobin's organization 12 times dating back to August 2011.
The donations added up to $2,180, according to court documents.
Michele said the couple will do research the next time they donate to a local cause.
"We'll probably be more careful and look into it a little bit more to make sure it's not just the sob stories," she said.
Dorothy Nobis, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, said people should check to make sure they are donating to a worthy cause before writing a check. She said people can check with the Better Business Bureau or the chamber if they have questions about a business or cause.
She said most real businesses have a website.
And the New Mexico Attorney General's Office has a database on its website that allows people to search for charities in New Mexico.
"If you are unsure, ask for some verification and if they are unwilling just say no," Nobis said. "If they are a legitimate business they are not going to mind."
Anyone with additional information on the investigation is asked to call Pimentel at 505-599-1005.