WASHINGTON – Manuel Rodriguez, 47, of Lafayette, La., was sentenced today to 120 months in prison and three years supervised release for committing fraud in connection with a coffee machine business opportunity scheme, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced. Additionally, he was ordered to pay more than $1.1 million in restitution. On Sept. 28, 2011, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., found Rodriguez guilty after a two-week trial. The jury found Rodriguez guilty on all seven counts submitted to it, one count of conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud.
At trial, witnesses testified that Rodriguez engaged in his scheme through the operation of three Florida companies: M & D Gourmet Coffee Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla.; Coffee Heaven LLC of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Divino Trio Coffee & Vending Company of Ft. Lauderdale. The jury heard testimony that the defendant and a co-conspirator made similar misrepresentations to consumers in connection with each of these companies with the same effect – a loss of tens of thousands of dollars per consumer.
Specifically, victims at trial testified that the defendant and his businesses offered a business package that included coffee machines, locations in which to place those machines, and on-going support and assistance in the operation of a coffee machine business. Witnesses explained that they lost amounts from $15,000 to $192,000 in the scheme. They testified that the defendant told them that their machines would sell enough coffee to recoup their investment in 12 to 18 months, and that this representation was false.
Victims also told the jury that while the defendant promised that the coffee machines would be placed in high-quality locations that would generate numerous sales, what was delivered were poor locations which generated few, if any, sales. Some victims testified that they received no machines at all.
“The court’s sentence should give fair warning to fraudsters who pad their pockets by imposing financial hardship on innocent victims,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “If you exploit consumers, we will be aggressive in our efforts to prosecute and hold you accountable.”
“We are committed to vigorously prosecuting financial fraud,” said Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Fraudulent telemarketers must realize that they will be pursued and brought to justice.”
“The Postal Inspection Service has investigated scores of individuals and dozens of companies like the ones involved here,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge, Henry Gutierrez, based in Miami. “Those investigations have led to felony convictions and significant terms of incarceration. The American public must remain vigilant to avoid sophisticated schemes that try to take advantage of our natural desire to prosper by owning businesses like this one.”
Assistant Attorney General West commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission. The case was prosecuted by attorneys John Claud and Matthew Ebert of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch.