For the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, the docket shows two ghost scam convictions down, one more to go.
The first two cases reached their conclusions in May, with the seven total defendants each being found guilty of grand theft or attempted grand theft. This third case has many similar details as its predecessors: old woman walking down the street loses her life savings after a team of con artists trick her into thinking that the only way to prevent a loved one's imminent death is through a ceremony that involves putting cash and jewelry into a plastic bag.
Diving into the prosecution's narrative, though, it becomes clear that this scam had its own distinct features and that the ghost scam scripts are not uniform.
For more on the ghost scams, see this week's cover story: Ghost Stories: Scams Targeting S.F.'s Cantonese Community Reveal the Terrible Power of Belief
On July 9, Pei Yee Lamzhao was walking down Geary in the Inner Richmond when a woman approached, according to court documents. The woman complained that she had been suffering stomach pains, and that she needed to see a certain herbalist doctor. The woman went on to explain that she and her husband had recently purchased a house, but the house brought them bad luck. Her husband would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and sometimes dancing.
"Help me, help me," the woman told Lamzhoa in Cantonese.
Those familiar with the ghost scams know what happened next: a second woman, who apparently overheard the conversation, appeared and said that she knew where the doctor's office is. Then the two women urged Lamzhao to go with them to find him. And then the doctor told Lamzhao that her son would die if she did not perform a purification ceremony.
This case, however, was unique for the suspects' more sophisticated effort to persuade their mark of the doctor's "Yin-Yang eyes," his supernatural abilities. These suspects were more participatory, colluding with the mark to deceive the doctor and joining in the rituals to ward off the evil spirits.
The women told Lamzhao that the doctor would only see them if they were relatives, and that they should lie to him and say that they were sisters. But when they did this, the doctor called them out-- he somehow knew they were not related.
More convincing, the woman with the screaming husband went through the same process as Lamzhao. Unlike in the other scam cases, in which the shaman would focus on the mark, the doctor in this instance divided his focus between Lamzhao and the woman.
And when Lamzhao returned with a bag full of money, she found that her new acquaintance had done the same. The doctor performed the ceremonies on both of them, one at a time. It was part of the act, of course. And it cost Lamzhou $1,800 and a pearl necklace.
But perhaps the most notable unique feature of this ghost scam case is that only a single suspect had been charged. Authorities arrested Cui Qun Zhu at the Los Angeles International Airport in January. She carried in her luggage several thousand dollars worth of currency from America, Hong Kong, and China.
Zhu was also charged with pulling the scam on Xue Zeng in Chinatown on July 1. Court documents identify one of Zhu's partners in crime as Shun Fang Yu. Yu remains at large. Zhu faces two counts extortion, two counts petty theft and grand theft, and three counts conspiracy. The case remains in the pretrial stages.