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Diocese of Stockton warns of fake clergy members scamming people in Modesto

By Josie Heart

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    MODESTO, California (KCRA) — The Diocese of Stockton is warning churchgoers after reports alleging that two men posing as bishops may be scamming people out of thousands of dollars.

“It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It’s frustrating. It’s criminal,” said Erin Haight, a spokesperson for the diocese of Stockton.

Haight said the diocese began getting phone calls from residents in the last few weeks claiming that they were charged up to $2,000 or more for religious services.

“They were doing things like baptism, first communions, confirmations. They were going into people’s homes doing home blessings,” Haight said.

The exorbitant amounts of money charged is what gave the diocese a red flag, according to Haight.

The diocese said its concern isn’t just that people are being potentially scammed out of their money but also that any religious services performed by anyone other than real members of the clergy are not considered legitimate, which could cause some issues down the line for those scammed.

“Twenty years from now, when they’d like to get married in a church, they’re going to find out that their baptism and their first communion and their confirmations were not valid, and they’re going to have to start the process from the very beginning,” Haight said.

The identities of the alleged scammers are confirmed by law enforcement, as no police reports have been filed, according to the Modesto Police Department.

Haight said most people who claimed to be targeted are undocumented Spanish speakers.

“They’re banking on taking advantage of people who maybe wouldn’t go to law enforcement officials because of their immigration status,” Haight said.

But the diocese said the men are posing as legitimate bishops from Mexico named Jose Adan Gonzalez Estrada and Raul Gomez Gonzalez.

“We’ve heard from a few people that called us that they were using WhatsApp, that they were communicating through Telegram,” Haight said. “Which are not the typical means of communication used by the diocese.”

Haight said there is no telling how many people may have fallen victim unless people come forward.

Anyone searching for religious services is urged to call their church or the diocese directly.

Modesto police are urging anyone who believes they may have fallen victim to call their department immediately.

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