A Chinese real estate agent in California was sentenced to 20 years on November 21 because she bilked at least $26 million from investors in a Southern California hotel and condominium project.

As The Associated Press reported on November 22,  Ruixue “Serena” Shi, 38, was the general manager of a China-based real estate company – Wanguo Land – with a Los Angeles office. She is well-known as the “beauty president.” 

She tricked more than 160 would-be buyers into giving her  down payments for a 207-unit luxury complex at the Coachella resort in the desert southeast of Los Angeles that she never built.

In fact, she only bought 20 acres of land in the area. Most of the remaining  investments were spent on personal items, such as luxury cars, travel, clothing, dining, and shopping.

For example, she splurged $2.2 million to travel around the world and $300,000 to buy 2 luxury cars. That also included $800,000 spent on a “full-service styling agency” in Beverly Hills.

During the trial, more than 20 victims submitted written testimonies. Many of them complained that the scam had left them in financial difficulty. One even thought about committing suicide due to the loss of his retirement savings.

The Department of Justice statement said, “Several discussed their reliance on Shi’s false promises that their investments would assist them in securing visas to immigrate to the United States. One victim even wrote that, after losing his retirement savings to Shi’s scheme, he ‘even contemplated suicide.’”

Prosecutors said that while the victims were suffering financially and psychologically from the loss, Shi was living a life of luxury.

The prosecution alleged that Shi cheated people out of at least $26 million, but the actual amount may be higher, and the defendant’s target is mainly Chinese people.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner said, “There has been no acceptance of responsibility; there has been a denial of responsibility.” In addition to prison time, Shi was ordered to pay $35.8 million in restitution.

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