THE NANNY NETWORK, INC.
By Kristi Belcamino
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
WALNUT CREEK – With a record that reads like a con artist’s handbook, Mariana Monticalvo has spent a good part of her life scamming Bay Area residents.
Authorities, who had chased the 45-year-old convicted felon for four years, caught up with her on Wednesday night in Walnut Creek after receiving a tip from her new landlord.
Monticalvo was arraigned Thursday on charges involving two cases, one in Orinda in which authorities say she stole thousands of dollars while posing as a nanny and the other in Danville involving alleged check fraud.
Two days earlier, she had taunted San Francisco investigators, saying police were too dumb to catch her, authorities said.
She appeared in court Thursday with her long dark hair shorn and bleached strawberry blond to face nine felony charges that included burglary, theft and check fraud.
An Orinda resident who hired Monticalvo described her as a smooth-talking, convincing swindler who threw out jargon and catchphrases to convince him she was a child care expert. Police say that when she was supposed to be watching his children, she absconded with his money.
“She is a very, very smooth operator,” said Alex Chan of Orinda. “She can be very, very convincing.”
Chan said he hired Monticalvo in September 2000 to care for his children, ages 1, 3 and 4.
He said he later learned that instead of baby-sitting, she was rifling through his papers and, according to the charges, stealing and cashing thousands of dollars in traveler’s checks.
At the time, Chan said he only knew she was a “bad baby sitter.” He fired her after one month, when friends told him they had heard her yelling at the children, and a house painter said she would talk on the phone all the time and leave the children by themselves, Chan said.
“That’s the scariest part about this, is that we entrusted our kids to a criminal, and we feel lucky nothing happened,” Chan said. “We have never had a nanny, or even a baby sitter, since.”
After she was fired, according to the charges, she broke into the house — authorities think she copied the key — and stole more checks.
San Francisco police Lt. Kenwade Lee said his department is looking at her in connection with five cases.
In one, a couple came home early and found their children, ages 3 and 1, locked in a fenced front yard. Monticalvo was inside the house working at the computer, the parents told police.
“Obviously, she was fired on the spot,” Lee said.
Her crimes are especially egregious because they involve children, he said.
“People are entrusting her with their most precious things, our children, someone who is not qualified to do so. To me that is the most appalling thing that somebody can do,” he said.
Her schemes were not limited to child care, authorities say.
In the Danville case, she allegedly purchased $500 worth of merchandise at Games Unlimited on a checking account that had been closed.
Police also are investigating allegations she has defrauded the advertising department at the Times by placing ads over the last 20 years using dozens of fake names and phone numbers to avoid payment.
Police say she has numerous aliases.
In the San Francisco cases, beginning in November 2002, she would use Internet classified ads, pretending to be looking for a nanny in order to get legitimate names and references. She then assumed one of those identities to get a job, giving prospective employers another nanny’s references and work history. Once hired, and after receiving an advance of between $2,500 and $4,000, she disappeared along with the money, Lee said.
Last week, Lafayette police say, Monticalvo tried to run down a police officer with her car after an employee at a Kinko’s store recognized her. She eluded capture and called San Francisco police this week to taunt them.
“She said she had been stopped by other police agencies and that no one has recognized her and everyone has let her go … She said that we were too stupid to catch her … She’s thumbing her nose at us,” Lee said.
Once the Contra Costa County cases are done, San Francisco, San Anselmo and San Leandro are waiting to talk to Monticalvo.
A conviction could count as a third strike. Court records show she has a string of felony convictions and two stints in prison for theft and fraud-related charges.
She is expected to enter a plea on the most recent charges next week, on Thursday.
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