News and Press Releases

“Advance Fee” Scam Netted Couple More than $845,000

November 9, 2010

ALYSON START, 34, and DARCY START, 45, both of Vancouver, Washington, were each sentenced late yesterday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud. The restitution amount will be determined at a future hearing. The husband and wife were indicted for an “advance fee” scheme in April 2009, and pleaded guilty in March 2010. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle told them he was astounded they were “so willing to defraud and deceive others.” And Judge Settle noted that the STARTs showed “no apparent remorse when another victim came along.”

According to filings in the case, the STARTs represented to more than 20 different clients that they could help them obtain financing for their small or start-up businesses. The STARTs took in significant fees, claiming they would obtain the financing or would return the fees if they failed to obtain financing. In fact, they never returned any of the fees. The loss amount is estimated at more than $845,000. As Assistant United States Attorney Aravind Swaminathan described in his sentencing memo, “For approximately three years, Defendants Alyson and Darcy Start preyed upon the hopes and dreams of their victims, many of whom were seeking loans to build or complete projects that would have created jobs and helped their communities. But in the process, the Starts repeatedly lied to their victims, falsely represented their ability to secure funding for their victims’ projects, and defrauded victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The STARTs operated a number of sham companies involved in the advance fee scheme: Advanced Lending Solutions, and Imperial Acquisition and Holdings Inc. But instead of using the advance fees to actually line up financing, the STARTs used the fees for their own benefit – to pay private school tuition for their children, for travel, and for numerous gambling junkets. Between April 2007 and November 2008, they made more than 65 trips to casinos in Las Vegas, Reno and throughout Washington State, gambling away tens of thousands of dollars. While they were cheating their victims, the STARTs were peppering their communications with some of the victims with Bible verses to make themselves appear honest and forthright.

Because the two have four young children, Judge Settle ordered that they serve their prison terms consecutively, with ALYSON START being incarcerated first. The recommendation was jointly made by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Aravind Swaminathan.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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