POTOMAC, Md. (WJLA) - A well-known and well-liked housekeeper is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars in fine jewelry from homes she was hired to clean.
The Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office has charged Gregoria "Noemi" Castaneda, 50, of Wheaton, with three felony counts of theft.
It's alleged Castaneda stole $33,905 from two homes along the 9400 block of Falls Bridge Lane in Potomac over the course of four years. Items reportedly taken include a 14-carat gold necklace worth $3,000, a 1.5-carat diamond pendant on a gold chain valued at $6,000, and a 1-carat round diamond engagement ring estimated at $8,000.
In August, one of the victims, whom ABC 7 News is not identifying, noticed she was missing a special piece of jewelry. While digging through her belongings, she found other valuables had also disappeared. That victim contacted her neighbor, who learned she, too, had been burglarized.
"It's really hard to stomach," the first victim told ABC 7 News off camera. "We really trusted her."
"She [Castaneda] cried when we confronted her. Like she should have won an Oscar for her acting," the second victim remarked.
Describing Castaneda as an affable woman, both women developed a friendly relationship with her over the course of 16 and four years, respectively.
"We gave her furniture, cash advances and even helped her pay for citizenship costs," the first victim added. "I just hope she doesn't become a citizen now."
"I feel terrible for them," Soojin Park, who lives across the street from both victims, said. "I really don't know what kind of person would do that."
Last September, Park hired Castaneda to clean the home she and her family had just purchased and remodeled.
"I really thought she was a very nice, diligent, hardworking lady, and very polite, too. No alarms went off when she came to my house to clean," Park added.
Despite Castaneda's professional demeanor, Park chose to go with another cleaning company. The wife and mother of two now says she's glad she did.
"You let someone in, you obviously start to trust [them], and then they take materials from you, that's just terrible," Park remarked.
Investigators say Castaneda sold much of the stolen jewelry at Famous Pawnbrokers in Wheaton, collecting pennies on the dollar. To date, nothing has been recovered.
ABC 7 News spoke with Castaneda on the telephone Tuesday afternoon. The 50-year-old maid said she did not speak English and then promptly hung up the phone.
"This is really shocking to me, I don't know if I can trust anybody anymore," Park concluded.
Castaneda, a native of Guatemala who is self-employed, has been cleaning area homes for more 15 years. It's unclear how many clients she has served during that time.
If you feel you or someone you know may be a victim, contact the Montgomery County Police Department at 240-773-TIPS (8477).