A McHenry County judge ruled Wednesday that the jury who will hear the case of a man accused of stealing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from his church friends also will hear of past convictions.
Carlos Meza, 55, of Lake in the Hills, who is charged with continuing financial crimes enterprise, theft by unauthorized control of more than $10,000 and financial institution fraud heads to trial Sept. 30, according to court documents filed at the McHenry County Courthouse.
In court Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Regina Jeon argued that evidence of past convictions from 2014 for misdemeanor theft in Cook County and a 2018 federal conviction of wire fraud also be allowed in as evidence. The wire fraud case is linked to his current case, the attorney said.
Jeon said Meza gained the trust of his victims, made them believe he was a friend and would help them by investing their money, then he stole it.
McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge granted the motion stating that the evidence is “probative and admissible.”
He denied the defense motion to also allow evidence of acquittals in the related cases. However, he denied the motion “with prejudice” meaning he could reconsider at a later date.
Meza’s attorney, Stephen Hall, argued that admitting prior convictions would be prejudicial. He also stated in his motion that, up until these recent convictions, Meza “has had a long history of lawfulness and has a short criminal record.”
Outside the courtroom, two of Meza’s alleged victims said they had known Meza and his family since 2000. They said Meza stole a combined total of more than $1 million from at least 12 church members he befriended at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Crystal Lake.
The women said that over the years, they all had gone on vacations together, had family barbecues and their children had grown up together.
Lori Stroh of Crystal Lake said that, because of Meza, she lost her home. She said that, in 2008 when the economy tanked, her home was “under water.” Meza, she said, told her he could help and she wrote out “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in checks and stopped paying her mortgage at his advisement. She never saw any of her money again, she said.
“They were our best friends,” Stroh said of Meza and his wife, who is not charged with any crimes. “We lost our home.”
Starley Crane of Crystal Lake said she and her husband also wrote large checks to Meza, a self-described investor, under the guise that he was making investments on their behalf.
“We gave him the money and never got it back,” Crane said. She said Meza’s 2018 federal conviction for wire fraud is because of her husband investing with Meza.
Meza allegedly had his friends write checks out to other people, then forged signatures and deposited those checks into accounts that he owned at his bank, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that he did this on three or more occasions between 2013 and 2014.
The women said Meza and his wife still attend their church.
A status date has been set for Sept. 5.