Eighth Individual Sentenced in Connection with Costa Rica-Based Business Opportunity Fraud Ventures
Sean Rosales, a dual United States and Costa Rican citizen, was sentenced today in connection with a series of business opportunity fraud ventures based in Costa Rica, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced today. Rosales was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Ursula M. Ungaro in Miami to 97 months in prison and 5 years supervised release. Rosales was also ordered to pay more than $7.3 million in restitution.
On March 20, Rosales pled guilty to one count of an indictment pending against him, charging conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Rosales was arrested in Chicago, Illinois late last year following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Miami on Nov. 29, 2011. The indictment alleged that Rosales and his co-conspirators purported to sell beverage and greeting card business opportunities, including assistance in establishing, maintaining and operating such businesses. The charges form part of the government’s continued nationwide crackdown on business opportunity fraud.
Prior to Rosales’ sentencing today, eleven other individuals were charged in connection with business opportunity fraud ventures based in Costa Rica. Rosales is the eighth of those individuals to be convicted and sentenced in the United States.
“Many Americans dream of owning and operating their own small business, but fraud schemes such as the one perpetrated by this defendant can turn that dream into a nightmare,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to be aggressive in prosecuting those who take advantage of innocent, hardworking Americans through business opportunity fraud.”
Beginning in May 2005, Rosales and his coconspirators fraudulently induced purchasers in the United States to buy business opportunities in USA Beverages Inc., Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee Inc., Cards-R-Us Inc., Premier Cards Inc., The Coffee Man Inc., and Powerbrands Distributing Company. The business opportunities cost thousands of dollars each, and most purchasers paid at least $10,000. Each company operated for several months, and after one company closed, the next opened. The various companies used bank accounts, office space and other services in the Southern District of Florida and elsewhere.
Rosales, using aliases, participated in a conspiracy that used various means to make it appear to potential purchasers that the businesses were located entirely in the United States. In reality, Rosales operated out of Costa Rica to fraudulently induce potential purchasers in the United States to buy the purported business opportunities.
The companies made numerous false statements to potential purchasers of the business opportunities, including that purchasers would likely earn substantial profits; that prior purchasers of the business opportunities were earning substantial profits; that purchasers would sell a guaranteed minimum amount of merchandise, such as greeting cards and beverages; and that the business opportunity worked with locators familiar with the potential purchaser’s area who would secure or had already secured high-traffic locations for the potential purchaser’s merchandise stands. Potential purchasers also were falsely told that the profits of some of the companies were based in part on the profits of the business opportunity purchasers, thus creating the false impression that the companies had a stake in the purchasers’ success and in finding good locations.
The companies employed various types of sales representatives, including fronters, closers and references. A fronter spoke to potential purchasers when the prospective purchasers initially contacted the company in response to an advertisement. A closer subsequently spoke to potential purchasers to finalize deals. References spoke to potential purchasers about the financial success they purportedly had experienced since purchasing one of the business opportunities. The companies also employed locators, who were typically characterized by the sales representatives as third parties who worked with the companies to find high-traffic locations for the prospective purchaser's merchandise display racks.
Rosales, using aliases, was a fronter for USA Beverages, a fronter and reference for Twin Peaks, a fronter and reference for Cards-R-Us, a fronter, locator and reference for Premier Cards, a locator for Coffee Man, and a locator for Powerbrands.
Each of the companies was registered as a corporation and rented office space to make it appear to potential purchasers that its operations were fully in the United States. USA Beverages was registered as a Florida and New Mexico corporation and rented office space in Las Cruces, N.M. Twin Peaks was registered as a Florida and Colorado corporation and rented office space in Fort Collins, Colo., and Cards-R-Us was registered as a Nevada corporation and rented office space in Reno, Nev. Premier Cards was registered as a Colorado and Pennsylvania corporation and rented office space in Philadelphia, and The Coffee Man was registered as a Colorado corporation and rented office space in Denver. Powerbrands was registered as a Wisconsin corporation and rented office space in Glendale, Wisconsin and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“Fraudulent business opportunity sellers must realize that financial fraud victimizing Americans will be prosecuted vigorously, even if the fraudsters conduct their operations from abroad,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Increased international law enforcement cooperation eliminates safe havens for those who seek to cheat Americans from overseas.”
“The success of this investigation shows that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to working with the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners, both foreign and domestically, to protect Americans from the predatory nature of business opportunity frauds,” said Ronald Verrochio, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge, Miami Division.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Delery commended the investigative efforts of the Postal Inspection Service. The case was being prosecuted by Assistant Director Jeffrey Steger and trial attorney Alan Phelps with the U.S. Department of Justice Consumer Protection Branch.