A 61-year-old woman who admitted in New York City court to scamming an elderly woman out of some $60,000 in cash and jewelry has been extradited to San Francisco to face charges related to so-called blessing scams performed here in The City.
Xuefang Zhou, a Chinese national, is accused of setting up two bait-and-switch scams last year where older Chinese women were coaxed into surrendering precious goods and thousands in cash.
In blessing scams, superstitious victims are swindled into believing their children will meet untimely deaths if their jewelry and cash is not blessed by the suspects. In San Francisco, there are more than 50 known victims of blessing scams robbed of a collective $1.5 million in goods, the District Attorney’s Office said.
Last Thursday, Zhou was booked into County Jail on $250,000 bail, according to the Sheriff’s Department. She was charged by prosecutors with six felonies: two counts of conspiracy; two counts of grand theft; extortion and elder abuse, according to a criminal complaint filed Sept. 8.
The charges stem from a pair of early October 2014 blessing scams.
On Oct. 2, 2014, Zhou and two unidentified female suspects allegedly convinced a woman to gather $80,000 in cash from her home and put it in a bag, according to the complaint. The victim then went to her bank, allegedly with Zhou, and pulled jewelry out of her safety deposit box, placing it in the money bag.
The woman was told her son would die by a given time unless she gathered the valuables and brought them to the suspects, according to the complaint. During a purification ceremony, where the suspects “blessed” the goods, the money and jewelry were replaced with water bottles and candy.
The suspects then told the woman not to open the bag for a month, “and if she did, her son would die,” the complaint said.
Three days later, Zhou and her unidentified accomplices allegedly coerced a woman into believing she needed to bring them money and jewelry to help Zhou’s daughter with her menstrual cycle, according to the complaint.
The woman went home and grabbed $10,000 in cash, jewelry and rice. She placed the items in a bag and returned to the suspects, the complaint said.
The suspects then switched up the scam, according to the complaint. If the woman didn’t hand over her goods for a blessing, her own daughter was going to die in an accident in three days.
The elderly woman complied. Her cash and jewelry were then swapped for water bottles without her knowledge. She walked home with the valueless bag chanting her daughter’s name, per the suspects’ instructions, according to the complaint.
New York City
Zhou’s alleged criminality didn’t stop there.
In late October 2014, Zhou worked with two unidentified accomplices to again scam a 65-year-old woman out of $60,000 in cash and jewelry in New York City’s Chinatown, according to the New York County District Attorney’s Office, which refers to Zhou as Xue Fang Zhou.
As in the alleged San Francisco scams, the trio told the woman her son would die if her goods weren’t blessed, this time by Zhou, and then replaced the expensive contents of the bag with water bottles. The woman would discover later she’d been robbed.
Zhou was reportedly arrested several days later by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at John F. Kennedy International Airport while trying to flee the country and, in May, pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said Zhou was extradited to The City after finishing her sentence on the East Coast.
Zhou was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday morning.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink