Telemarketer Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 75 Months In Prison For Sweepstakes Fraud That Targeted Elderly Victims
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced that WARREN STELMAN, a/k/a “Dave Ford,” was sentenced today to 75 months in prison for his participation in a Dominican-based telemarketing fraud scheme that targeted elderly victims throughout the United States and defrauded those victims of nearly $1 million. STELMAN was arrested in the Dominican Republic in August 2012 and was subsequently extradited to the United States. He pled guilty in January 2013 to one count of wire fraud. Today’s sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Warren Stelman admitted scheming in the Dominican Republic to fleece elderly people in the U.S. His pitch, dangling fictitious sweepstakes winnings, was persuasive enough to victimize many of these people repeatedly. Today he has been ordered to pay for his crime against these vulnerable victims in money and time.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said: “The defendant hid behind his telephone to prey upon his victims, many of whom were elderly, with promises of money and prizes. Although the victims never met the defendant, they relied upon his representations of wealth and in exchange, turned over their hard earned money. This case should be a reminder to the public to be cautious of get-rich-quick opportunities, many of which are merely schemes to defraud and take advantage of our unsuspecting community.”
According to the Indictment and other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, as well as statements made in court proceedings:
STELMAN and his co-conspirators, including his wife Lana Stelman, operated boiler rooms in the Dominican Republic, from which they telephoned victims in the United States, most of whom were elderly. They informed the victims falsely that they had won substantial amounts of cash through a sweepstakes or some other type of promotion, but that in order to claim their prize, they first needed to wire thousands of dollars in “fees” to the Dominican Republic. In reality, however, there were no cash prizes, neither STELMAN nor his co-conspirators worked in connection with a sweepstakes or other promotion, and none of the victims ever received any money in exchange for their fees.
The victims were typically told to send the money for the purported fees by, among other means, Western Union or Money Gram. After victims sent money to cover the supposed fees, STELMAN and his co-conspirators typically contacted them again and, using further fraudulent representations, persuaded them to send more money to pay for other costs. In some instances, when victims said that they had run out of money to pay additional fees, STELMAN and his associates urged the victims to come up with more money by borrowing from friends and relatives, taking cash advances on credit cards, and obtaining loans against their homes and vehicles.
The fraudulent scheme targeted U.S. residents who had previously subscribed to sweepstakes. STELMAN and his co-conspirators identified these victims by purchasing from U.S.-based brokers copies of sweepstakes entry forms the victims had previously filled out. These entry forms, which the conspirators referred to as “leads,” were typically written on narrow slips of paper that included the names, addresses, and telephone numbers for sweepstakes entrants. The conspirators used various Internet-based phone methods to mask their locations and identities, and communicated with the victims through numbers assigned to voicemail boxes located in Manhattan. In total, 78 victims – 54 of whom were over the age of 70 – were defrauded out of nearly $1 million.
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In addition to the prison term, Judge Kaplan sentenced STELMAN, 54, of the Dominican Republic, to three years of supervised release. STELMAN was also ordered to forfeit $996,659.30 and to pay a total of $996,659.30 in restitution to 78 victims.
Four other defendants – Lana Stelman, Romeo Rawlins, Juana Santana and Lickenson Brooks – were also charged for their participation in the scheme. Lana Stelman and Brooks pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Charges remain pending against Rawlins and Santana, and they are presumed innocent until and unless they are proven guilty.
In related cases, Janice Pemberton, Peter Gruman, Randy Ortzman, and Avraham Fried were charged with participating in similar telemarketing fraud schemes from the Dominican Republic. All of these defendants have pled guilty. Fried was sentenced on September 10, 2013 by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley to 44 months in prison. Pemberton, Gruman, and Ortzman are awaiting sentencing.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas G. A. Brown and Rosemary Nidiry are in charge of the prosecution.