Florida Residents Sentenced for Defrauding and Threatening Spanish-Speaking Consumers
Two individuals charged with running a telemarketing operation that defrauded Spanish-speaking consumers were sentenced today in Miami federal district court, the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) announced. Daniel Carrasco, 54, was sentenced to serve 121 months in federal prison, and Federico Martin Gioja, 45, was sentenced to serve 108 months in federal prison, for their operation of telemarketing companies in Argentina whose representatives consistently lied to consumers about products they would receive and threatened consumers with consequences of failure to pay for their shipments. In addition to their sentences of imprisonment, Carrasco and Gioja were ordered to forfeit a variety of assets, including approximately 20 pieces of real property, an automobile, motorcycles, a boat, a jet ski and firearms.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all consumers from fraud, regardless of the language they speak,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “We will be particularly vigilant towards schemes that target specific populations, and we will track down fraudulent actors whether they commit their offenses from the United States or abroad, and whether they commit them in English or another language.”
Carrasco’s and Gioja’s telemarketers promoted products such as vitamins, lotions and English-language training products. They also promised buyers would receive valuable gifts such as expensive watches and perfumes, gift cards and medical assistance and insurance. However, the companies frequently did not deliver products ordered by consumers. Since the companies did not have many of the products they promised to send to consumers, they sent other products instead. Then, after consumers refused delivery of the companies’ shipments, the Argentinian phone room telemarketers called and falsely threatened consumers with arrest, deportation or fines on their gas and electric bills.
“Fraud is unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A. Ferrer. “Fraud by threat and intimidation is particularly troublesome because it targets the perceived, but oftentimes real, vulnerabilities of those preyed upon. In this case, the defendants targeted Spanish-speaking consumers and falsely threatened them with arrest, deportation or fines when the consumers refused delivery for products they had not ordered. Such tactics are intolerable. My office is committed and stands united with the department’s Civil Division, Consumer Protection Branch to stem such fraud.”
As part of their guilty pleas, Carrasco and Gioja admitted they routinely changed the names of the companies under which they did business to evade consumer complaints, regulators and law enforcement. A variety of state agencies contacted the businesses regarding their illicit practices. Those working with Carrasco and Gioja referred to these companies tainted by complaints as “burnt.” Rather than changing the “burnt” companies’ practices, Carrasco and Gioja incorporated new companies and started the same illegal practices again.
Also in pleading guilty, Carrasco and Gioja admitted their telemarketers falsely represented to consumers that they were affiliated with Spanish-language television networks. This fraud first came to light when the Spanish language network Univision informed the USPIS they believed a company was involved in a fraud scheme in which it misrepresented its affiliation with the network. Subsequently, USPIS investigated the case, submitted the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrested the defendants.
“Sadly, these types of crimes create a distrust in people and leave victims feeling ashamed for falling for a scam,” said Inspector In Charge Ronald Verrochio for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Miami Division. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service remains committed to pursuing crimes that are furthered via the U.S. mail and building trust with consumers. Postal Inspectors will investigate and bring the criminals to justice.”
Carrasco and Gioja were originally charged by criminal complaint and arrested on June 26, 2013. Both defendants were later indicted on July 25, 2013, and pleaded guilty on September 24, 2013. Carrasco and Gioja, and a third individual, Romino Tasso, also were named in a civil suit filed by the Justice Department. In the civil case, the Justice Department requested and obtained from the court a preliminary injunction barring further lies to consumers and freezing the assets of Carrasco, Gioja, Tasso and companies under their control.
Assistant Attorney General Delery commended the Postal Inspection Service for their investigative efforts and thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida for their contributions to the civil case. The criminal case was prosecuted by Assistant Director Richard Goldberg with the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Abraham of the Southern District of Florida.