A grand jury in the Southern District of Florida issued an indictment for two individuals on charges of conspiracy, fraud and extortion alleging they operated a series of fraudulent businesses targeting Spanish-speaking consumers, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) announced today. The indictment charges Daniel Carrasco, 54, and Federico Martin Gioja, 45, both of Miramar, Fla., with incorporating, owning and operating Florida companies that used telemarketers in a phone room in Argentina to extract money from consumers, using lies and extortion.
Carrasco and Gioja were charged by criminal complaint and arrested on June 26, 2013. They have remained incarcerated since that time. Carrasco and Gioja, and a third individual, Romino Tasso, also were named in a civil suit filed by the Justice Department. In the civil case, the Justice Department requested that the court issue an injunction, and, subsequently, Judge Cecilia Altonaga issued a temporary restraining order barring further lies to consumers and freezing the assets of Carrasco, Gioja, Tasso and companies under their control.
“We will use every tool at our disposal, including asset freezes, injunctive relief and criminal prosecution, against companies that lie to, extort, threaten and defraud consumers,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Protecting Americans from fraud continues to be a top priority for the Department of Justice.”
According to the civil complaint and the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, the case resulted from a referral by Spanish-language television station, Univision. Companies belonging to Carrasco and Gioja are alleged to have falsely claimed an affiliation with Univision and purported to sell products such as vitamins, lotions, medical insurance and English-language training products. However, the companies frequently did not deliver products ordered by consumers. Since the companies allegedly did not have many of the products they promised to send to consumers, consumers received other products instead. Then, according to the indictment, after consumers refused delivery of the companies’ shipments, the Argentinian phone room telemarketers called and falsely threatened consumers with arrest, deportation or fines on their gas and electric bills.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “These defendants specifically targeted Spanish-speaking victims, pretending to be affiliated with Univision, to sell their products from their phone room in Argentina, when in fact, they had absolutely no connection to Univision, and their companies did not deliver the products consumers ordered. “We are committed to investigating and prosecuting such fraudsters, both domestic and international, whose schemes defraud consumers.”
According to the criminal and civil complaints, Carrasco and Gioja routinely changed the names of the companies under which they did business to evade consumer complaints, regulators and law enforcement. Allegedly, a variety of state agencies contacted the businesses regarding their illicit practices. Those working with Carrasco and Gioja, in emails cited in the affidavit in support of arrest, referred to these companies tainted by complaints as “burnt.” Rather than changing the “burnt” companies’ practices, Carrasco and Gioja allegedly incorporated new companies and started the same illegal practices again.
The alleged fraud first came to light when the Spanish language network Univision informed the USPIS that they believed a company was involved in a fraud scheme in which it misrepresented its affiliation with the network. Subsequently, the USPIS investigated the case, submitted the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrested the defendants.
“Postal inspectors will continue to investigate cases involving fraud against consumers and will vigorously pursue those individuals who use the mail to further their criminal schemes,” said Ronald Verrochio, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge in Miami.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Delery commended the Postal Inspection Service for their investigative efforts and thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida for their contributions to the civil case. The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant Director Richard Goldberg with the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch.