SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division is investigating multiple complaints that staff members at Edison High School organized a pyramid scheme targeting co-workers and others.
Three alleged victims, who spoke with the KSAT 12 Defenders on the condition that they remain anonymous, said that, in late 2016, they paid $1,400 to enter a "gifting game" organized by Edison High School special education teacher Jennifer Gutierrez-Antuna.
The alleged victims, one of whom worked with Gutierrez-Antuna at the time, said they were told their "gift" would turn into between $5,400 and $11,200.
"It was going good. Teachers were getting paid. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped," said one alleged victim.
She estimated that around 20 Edison staff members — including teachers, counselors and custodians — took part in the game, which is commonly referred to as a blessing loom.
According to the offices of multiple state attorneys, a blessing loom is a different version of a pyramid scheme. People pay, or gift, a set amount of money to enter the loom's outside row.
When the loom fills up, the person in the center gets the money and the loom splits, moving everyone up a level and closer to the middle.
The woman said that, after hearing stories of co-workers who played the game and made quick profits, she withdrew $5,600 from her savings account, enough to pay for four entries in the loom's outside row.
She said she paid Gutierrez-Antuna inside the teacher's classroom, giving her stacks of $100 bills.
"There was a lot of people, a lot of traffic," said the woman, who claims that Gutierrez-Antuna had notebooks containing the names of other participants as well as a large amount of cash inside her classroom.
The woman's complaint, filed with the Consumer Protection Division in February 2017, is one of four that remain open, according to state records. This week, she said, she has not been able to recoup any of her money.
"She took all my savings, the little that I had to retire, and now I'm broke," said the woman, who added that she now lives on a $400 monthly state pension check.
Gutierrez-Antuna, who is on paid administrative leave, did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
A man who identified himself as Gutierrez-Antuna's husband said via telephone that his wife first joined the game at a restaurant event and was nothing more than a participant in it.
State records, however, paint Gutierrez-Antuna as the scheme's ringleader.
According to a complaint filed against her, Gutierrez-Antuna not only recruited co-workers to join the looms, she held meetings at Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, restaurants and homes in different parts of town to bring in participants not affiliated with Edison High School.
A second Edison High School employee, softball coach Aimee Silva, resigned in December, a San Antonio Independent School District spokeswoman confirmed.
Silva, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story, was characterized as one of the organizers of the game, according to state attorney general's office records.
The SAISD Police Department first received information about the scheme in January 2017.
An offense report, provided to the Defenders following an open records request, names both Silva and Gutierrez-Antuna as offenders and lists six possible victims.
Neither woman has been criminally charged in connection with the case.
Officials with the attorney general's office, in seeking to withhold portions of their investigation, said via letter earlier this month that they anticipate litigation in this case.
In Texas, pyramid schemes, if proven, are a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act.
"The SAISD police department investigated some reported concerns of potential fraud. That information is currently with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office. Due to their ongoing investigation, the District is not providing any other details on the case," SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said in a written statement.