Lonely and slowly losing his mental acuity, Ted Trujillo drained his life savings to help his Ukrainian love interest, “Katerina,” come to the U.S., a new lawsuit says.

The 77-year-old Chimayó man already had spent $180,000 — obtained by refinancing his home twice — when he decided to ask an acquaintance for a loan so he could clear the last few hurdles preventing him and Katerina, whom he’d met on an online dating site, from being united, says the suit, filed on his behalf in December in state District Court.

Trujillo told the man he needed $60,000 to help Katerina get her personal funds released from a United Nations “hold,” which would allow her to access millions of dollars. There would plenty of money to pay back the loan, Trujillo believed.

According to his complaint, the retired lawyer, who is the father of Rio Arriba County Attorney Adan Trujillo, then fell victim to scam artists closer to home, who took advantage of his diminished mental state to divest him of a piece of undeveloped property he owned along the Santa Cruz River.

The complaint lists 11 people and companies and multiple “John and Jane Does” as defendants.

Mukhtiar Khalsa of Española is named as one of the men accused of exploiting Ted Trujillo.

Khalsa has been accused previously of fleecing New Mexico residents. The state Attorney General’s Office in 2016 accused him of using his foreclosure assistance company, Praedium Preservation, to take advantage of desperate homeowners who sought his help, in part by charging them for assistance he never provided. That case is still pending.

“We are pursing a civil fraud action against this individual and we are working with the federal authorities on the romance scam,” Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote in an email Monday sent by his spokeswoman, Jeri Mares.

“We have established liability and are working on bringing [the case] to trial this summer,” Mares wrote.

Ted Trujillo and Khalsa had met years earlier when Trujillo was representing a mutual domestic water consumer association, the lawsuit says; Khalsa served on its board of directors.

Trujillo contacted Khalsa in December 2019, saying he needed to discuss some “very private” business. When they met, the complaint says, Trujillo told Khalsa about Katerina and the $60,000 she needed to have her personal fortune released by the U.N.

Khalsa should have known Trujillo had been the victim of an online dating scam, the complaint adds. Still, he agreed to loan the money if Trujillo would put up his undeveloped property along the Santa Cruz River as collateral.

Khalsa could not be reached for comment Monday on the allegations in the complaint.

The suit says Khalsa recruited two other people to help come up with the $60,000: his mother-in-law, and Melanie Milasinovich of Santa Fe, who had worked with Khalsa in offering help to people facing foreclosure.

They put together a deal in which Trujillo received $60,000 with the understanding he would pay back $120,000 within 30 days — $36,000 to Milasinovich, who provided $24,000, and $84,000 to Khalsa’s mother-in-law, who provided $36,000. She is a defendant in the suit but is not identified by name.

Milasinovich, also a defendant, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The deal would have carried an annual interest rate of 1,600 percent, says Trujillo’s lawsuit, filed by Albuquerque attorneys David Kramer and Sean McAfee. “Such lending is grossly unfair and unconscionable and constitutes elder abuse,” the complaint says, adding the deal violates the state’s Unfair Practices Act.

After Katerina received the $60,000, the lawsuit says, she “continued the romance scam,” saying the U.N. needed an additional $30,000 to finish the process of releasing her funds. (She also has used the name Vladlena Kolianova but might not be an actual person, according to the complaint.)

In January 2020, the suit says, Khalsa began calling Ted Trujillo, pressuring him to repay the loan.

The two men began discussing the possibility of selling the property along the Santa Cruz River to make good on the loan.

In March 2020, however, Khalsa suggested instead Trujillo refinance his home — for the third time in an 18-month period — to obtain the funds. He put Trujillo in touch with Michael Torres, an Albuquerque loan officer with whom Khalsa had done business in the past.

Torres, who could not be located for comment Monday, refinanced Trujillo’s home for $47,000, the lawsuit says. It accuses Torres of “failing to guard against elder abuse.”

It adds: “Even the most basic inquiry by Torres would have revealed deeply troubling facts and circumstances” with the loan.

When Trujillo attempted to complete an international wire transfer of $36,000 in June 2020, his bank refused to make the transfer, citing potential fraud. Also that month, the suit says, Khalsa told Trujillo for the first time he thought something fraudulent was taking place.

The following month, Trujillo’s sons discovered what was happening and intervened. They opened new accounts and changed their father’s phone numbers, making it more difficult for Khalsa to contact him.

In August 2020, the suit says, Milasinovich recorded the loan agreement with the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office and placed a lien on the river property. Khalsa subsequently told Adan Trujillo there were two liens against the property for $120,000 but said if the property were sold, he could offer $50,000 in loan forgiveness.

Trujillo’s lawsuit seeks to void legal documents completed during the alleged overlapping schemes and to have the loan declared void, unconscionable and unenforceable. It also seeks to collect actual and punitive damages.

“This has been a very emotional and difficult time for our family, and we are doing our best to try to protect my dad and his property and trying to bring some accountability to the people we think took advantage of him,” Trujillo’s son, Adan Trujillo wrote in an email Monday.

(6) comments

Lucee Bea Goosea

Does Khalsa sell jewelry on the plaza?

Khal Spencer

Online dating and requests for big piles of money? Shoulda sent off not just red flags but signal flares and star shells. We need to take care of our elders when they start to lose their acuity. There are too many scam artists in the world. I hope some of these people are in the U.S. and can be sued down to their underwear.

Randy Burlingame

A Pig in a poke. Mr..

Trujillo didn't even get the poke. Hector?

Maire O'Neill

Thank you for bring this situation to light, Phaedra. It makes me wonder just how many elderly people are being scammed like this in our state by people they know.

Carol Miller

Many people are being scammed. I personally know three elders, two in NM, who have lost everything to scammers. Loneliness is a major health risk to elders, which also puts them at financial risk.

Tiffany Thomas

I used to work in banking for many year and more people than you would think. Elder abuse is rampant and it’s a very very sad situation.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.