United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Two Washington Residents Indicted for Defrauding Elderly Victims in California
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Washington state residents Joseph Nkunzi, 30, and Safia Ahmed, 37, were indicted today by a federal grand jury for running a sweepstakes scam targeting elderly victims in Stockton, Woodland, Bakersfield, and elsewhere, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
The defendants were arrested in Washington on July 30, 2013, where a magistrate judge detained them both as flight risks and ordered them transported to Sacramento. They were charged today with eight counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleges enhanced penalties because the scheme involved telemarketing conduct that victimized individuals over the age of 55.
According to court documents, on April 26, 2013, the Sacramento FBI received a referral from the Woodland Police Department regarding a 78-year-old victim of a telemarketing lottery scam. She had been called by a company “North American Prize Pool” and told that she had won $8.8 million, but in order to receive the prize, she had to send $182,000 to various accounts. An investigation into those accounts led to Nkunzi and Ahmed and others involved in the scheme.
According to court documents, the defendants and others telephoned victims across the United States and informed them they had won millions of dollars in a sweepstake or lottery. The victims were told that they had to “prepay” taxes or insurance on the prize money prior to receiving it, and they were directed to send checks to the defendants or deposit money into accounts that defendants controlled. The defendants established multiple shell bank accounts using false identity documents to receive the fraud proceeds, which they subsequently spent or forwarded to others involved in the scheme.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and several law enforcement agencies in Washington state. Assistant United States Attorney Michele Beckwith is prosecuting the case.
If convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud, Nkunzi and Ahmed face a sentence enhanced for elder abuse of 30 years in prison. The sentence for aggravated identity theft is two years in prison. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.