Two Costa Rican Residents Found Guilty for Roles in $10 Million International Telemarketing Scheme
Two individuals were found guilty yesterday for their roles in a $10 million telemarketing scheme that defrauded primarily elderly victims in the United States from call centers in Costa Rica.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray of the Western District of North Carolina made the announcement.
Following a three-day jury trial, Andrew Smith, 45, of San Jose, Costa Rica, and Christopher Lee Griffin, 44, a U.S. citizen who previously resided in San Jose, Costa Rica, were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of international money laundering. Sentencing has not yet been set by U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Conrad of the Western District of North Carolina, who presided over the trial.
“Andrew Smith and Christopher Lee Griffin orchestrated a brazen telemarketing scheme from Costa Rica and stole more than $10 million,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “But what makes their crimes especially reprehensible is the harm they caused to a significant number of elderly victims. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called those who exploit our senior citizens ‘cowards,’ and these convictions demonstrate that the Department of Justice will aggressively pursue cowards like these, no matter where they reside.”
According to the evidence presented at trial, both Smith and Griffin worked in a call center in Costa Rica in which conspirators, who posed as representatives of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), contacted victims in the United States to tell them that that they had won a substantial “sweepstakes” prize. After convincing victims, many of whom were elderly, that they stood to receive a significant financial reward, the conspirators told victims that they needed to make a series of up-front payments before collecting their supposed prize, purportedly for items like insurance fees, taxes and customs duties. Conspirators used a variety of means to conceal their true identities, such as Voice over Internet Protocols, which made it appear that they were calling from Washington, D.C., and other places in the United States. According to trial testimony, one elderly victim who indicated she was going to stop paying was warned by a conspirator that they knew where she and her family lived.
Smith and Griffin arranged for victims to transmit payments through international wire transfers directly to Costa Rica or through “runners” who collected money from victims in the United States and forwarded payment to Smith, Griffin and others in Costa Rica, according to the evidence presented at trial. Runners dispatched by Smith and his conspirators sometimes met elderly victims at their homes to collect bags of cash, which they in turn remitted to Costa Rica, the evidence showed.
Smith, Griffin and their conspirators stole more than $10 million from victims, the evidence showed.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and the FBI, with assistance from the FTC and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and Bureau of Consular Affairs, along with government authorities in Costa Rica provided critical assistance with the extradition of these defendants. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys William Bowne, Jennifer Farer and Anna Kaminska of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina provided substantial assistance with this matter.