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Friday, April 27, 2007

Owner in sign-language scam denies guilt


Staff writer

The owner of a Tokyo-based welfare instruments sales company pleaded not guilty Thursday to swindling 116 million yen from 13 deaf people, using sign language to convince them to invest in a spa-renovation project in Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Yoko Kobayashi, 55, allegedly told the 13 that the unprofitable spa, which she was going to buy and renovate to accommodate disabled people, would earn them returns of 5 percent to 6 percent a year.

Kobayashi acknowledged getting the money from the disabled people by promising high returns but denied she intended to deceive them.

"I feel sorry that I can't pay the money back, but I never meant to defraud anyone," Kobayashi, who is not deaf, claimed as her Tokyo District Court trial started. "I apologize for not having enough wisdom to properly manage the money."

The majority of the invested money was reportedly used to pay off her company's debts, which had grown to 4.4 billion yen following a failed campaign to sell "memo phones" to deaf people.

Two of Kobayashi's employees -- Eiko Machida, 55, and her son, Norikyo, 28 -- were also indicted for their involvement in the alleged fraud. Eiko denied she defrauded the deaf people, but her son acknowledged doing so and admitted he tricked his clients into handing over their money.

The three stand accused of selling equipment designed for disabled people at a firm called Coroniwaizu in Minato Ward, Tokyo, using their sign-language abilities to bilk 270 people out of a combined 2.7 billion yen, starting as early as July 2000.

Prosecutors built their cases around 13 of the 270 alleged victims, claiming that between February 2004 and September 2005, Kobayashi and the two promised to offer an annual interest of 5 percent to 6 percent and encouraged the disabled people to invest their money "as a measure to prepare for retirement."



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