Two Costa Rican Residents Sentenced to Lengthy Prison Terms in Connection with $10 Million International Telemarketing Scheme
Two individuals from Costa Rica were sentenced to 25 and 20 years in prison today for their roles in a $10 million telemarketing scheme that defrauded primarily elderly victims in the United States from call centers in Costa Rica.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray of the Western District of North Carolina, Inspector in Charge David M. McGinnis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Charlotte Division, Acting Special Agent in Charge William Cheung of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s (CI) Cincinnati Field Office and Special Agent in Charge John Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office made the announcement.
Andrew Smith, 46, and Christopher Lee Griffin, 45, both of San Jose, Costa Rica, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad of the Western District of North Carolina to 25 years and 20 years in prison, respectively. Judge Conrad also ordered Smith to pay $10,222,838.76 in restitution to be paid jointly and severally with his co-conspirators and forfeit $406,324.96. Griffin was ordered to pay $9,612,590.39 in restitution to be paid jointly and severally with his co-conspirators and forfeit $182,439. Following a three-day jury trial in February 2018, Smith and Griffin were each 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.
“Andrew Smith and Christopher Lee Griffin participated in a deplorable scam to defraud hard-working elderly Americans out of millions of dollars,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The severe sentences imposed today represent a significant victory in our continuing efforts to fight elder fraud and protect some of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public. These sentences should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone seeking to enrich themselves by taking part in similar scams.”
“Smith and Griffin used shameless tricks and brazen lies to convince victims their dream of financial security had come true. That dream soon turned into a devastating nightmare, one that took a financial and emotional toll on the victims, many of whom were elderly,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “The depravity of this scheme is reflected in the sentence handed down to these two criminals, for it takes a special kind of wickedness to steal from the elderly. Today’s sentence also underscores our commitment to stopping financial scams and holding offenders accountable for their actions, no matter where they are.”
“We are proud to work alongside our federal law enforcement partners in efforts to target those individuals who take advantage of the American public, especially our vulnerable older Americans, for illegal profits,” said Inspector in Charge McGinnis. “Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable, regardless of where they are.”
“Quite simply, the conduct in this case is egregious. This investigation uncovered a fraudulent telemarketing scheme that generated millions of dollars through a web of financial lies that preyed on countless elderly victims, all so these defendants could line their pockets with stolen money,” said IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Cheung. “These types of investigations are often solved most efficiently through a multiple-agency approach to crime fighting.”
“Years ago, our parents taught us not to talk to strangers. Their advice has proven to be timeless,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Strong. “Strangers are reaching out to us on social media, sending us emails, calling our homes and cell phones. If you fall for a scam, you can bet your life, they will call you again. They might have a different sales pitch or a sob story, but they are the same crooks. These prison sentences should serve as a warning to the thieves, the FBI and our law enforcement partners will work tirelessly to find you and put you out of business for good.”
According to 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 U.S. 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 import fees. 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 evidence presented at trial. Runners dispatched by Smith and his co-conspirators 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, IRS-CI and the FBI, with assistance from the FTC and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Jennifer Farer and Assistant Chief 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. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Bureau of Consular Affairs, along with government authorities in Costa Rica, provided critical assistance with the extradition of these defendants.