Police ID additional potential victims of Baby Fest fraud

By on January 9, 2009

by Susan O’Neill

Additional potential victims of Baby Fest promoter Joanie M. Bellas have come forward since the Sugar Grove police released information about her possible scam. Police have also identified more people through a review of Bellas’ business records.

“We may end up with 15 to 20,” Sugar Grove investigator John Sizer said.

Vendors representing baby products and services who thought they paid to participate in a trade show for expectant mothers may have been victims of a scam conducted by Bellas, an Aurora resident.

“Most of the victims are small business owners that go to trade shows,” Sizer said.

Bellas signed a contract with the Vaughan Athletic Center for a space for Oct. 18 and 19 to hold the trade show advertised on her website as Baby Fest. She began collecting the money from potential vendors through a post office box in Geneva.

The Vaughan Center cancelled the event when it did not receive Bella’s deposit or the references it requested. Sizer said it was not clear whether Bellas ever intended to hold the event, but she continued to take applications and money for months after she knew it had been cancelled.

Officers from the Sugar Grove Police Department and the U.S. Postal Service arrested Bellas at her residence in the 900 block of Lindenwood Drive in Aurora Township at 8 a.m. Dec. 18. Bellas, 38, was arrested on charges of theft by deception and computer fraud.

Bellas was taken into custody to the Sugar Grove Police Department, where she was booked and posted $1,000 cash bond. The police also seized her computer and business records. She was released with a court date of Thursday, Jan. 8.

Sizer said that in addition to the victims from Wisconsin and Missouri, it looks as though there may be one from Michigan. He said that the charges could include federal mail fraud if the amount of money is large enough.

“I’m not sure how we will handle it,” Sizer said. “It’s unusual that I would have so many victims outside my jurisdiction.”

Sizer said that anyone who has any information or who feels they are a victim of this scam should call the Sugar Grove police at (630) 466-4526, ext. 37.