Man tried voodoo, black magic against prosecutor and investigators, authorities allege
A Downey used car dealer was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for a multimillion-dollar house buying fraud scheme, despite allegations that he used black magic and voodoo-like dolls targeting the prosecutor and investigators in the case.
Ruben Hernandez was accused in 2008 in a series of house purchases using fake Social Security numbers and fake bank statements that defrauded banks of about $4 million.
The U.S. Marshals Service took Hernandez into custody in February 2009 after he became involved in a high-speed chase. A search of his Pasadena home uncovered some unexpected items, authorities said.
“Investigators went into one of the bedrooms, and it was a shrine with a cross and all kinds of skeletons and stuff,” said Eugene Hanrahan, a deputy L.A. County district attorney.
“The star attractions were these three effigy dolls dunked upside down in this brown liquid. One of them had my name, and the other two had the names of investigators.”
Each doll had pins in its eyes, he said. Attached to the dolls was the case number in the criminal charges. Hanrahan said that inside the home on Thorndike Road investigators also found their names wrapped around a baseball bat.
“Even the U.S. marshals were spooked,” he said. Officials decided to find out the background of the shrine, with help of a UCLA professor.
The professor said the ritual was tied to Palo Mayombe, a religion that was brought to the Caribbean during the slave trade and is known for its animal sacrifices. Over the years it gained popularity among drug dealers, who use it to put curses on their enemies. Experts believe that as many as 40,000 people in United States may follow its rituals.
Hernandez, 34, was one of two people accused in the scheme. His alleged co-conspirator was arrested before Hernandez and was also sentenced Wednesday after being convicted along with Hernandez last month.
The prosecutor said Hernandez later admitted creating the dolls of his enemies but claimed the “pins were a form of spiritual acupuncture” to make them see that he was a good man. With the trial finally over, Hanrahan said it’s safe to report the apparent spells did not work. But he wasn’t always that sure.
“Around the time of the preliminary hearing my left foot swelled up. It became very painful…. But it later fixed itself,” said Hanrahan. “I didn’t think about it at the time, until we discovered the shrine.”
-- Richard Winton
Photo: U.S. Marshals Service