LOS ANGELES – A Canadian telemarketer was sentenced this morning to 41 months in federal prison for conning American senior citizens by impersonating their grandchildren over the telephone and asking for financial help to get the purportedly distressed relatives out of trouble in a foreign country.
Clifford Kirstein, 29, of Montreal, was sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who also ordered Kirstein to pay $56,258 in restitution to eight victims.
Kirstein pleaded guilty in November to one count of wire fraud after being extradited from Canada in January 2019. Kirstein admitted in court that he and his co-conspirators contacted their elderly U.S. victims by telephone and fraudulently induced victims to send money by pretending to be a grandchild or some other relative who was in distress in a foreign nation.
As a result, frightened victims wired money as instructed to help their loved ones. The victims were directed to wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram, listing the grandchild, other relative or the name of the purported lawyer as the intended recipient.
When the victims wired the money, Kirstein and his co-conspirators converted the funds to cash as quickly as possible before the victims could discover that they had been fooled. On some occasions, Kirstein or his co-schemers called the victims again to solicit more money, falsely claiming that additional funds were needed by the grandchild or other relative to fully resolve the problem.
Canadian law enforcement executed a search warrant in 2012 at a Montreal apartment, where they found a fully operating telemarketing boiler room, a large amount of cash and a money counting machine. The individual rooms of the apartment were strewn with lead sheets, burner phones and calling cards, and the bathroom had been set up as an office with a chair in front of the sink.
“This scam was a heinous and cruel hoax, which involved threats of violence when victims did not cooperate,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “[Kirstein] and his co-schemers stole not only the victims’ money, but terrified them and damaged their self-confidence.”
Kirstein admitted in his plea agreement that in February 2012 one of the scheme’s targeted victims was a Camarillo resident.
A federal grand jury charged Kirstein and four other Canadian nationals in July 2013 in a 25-count indictment alleging wire fraud. Co-conspirators Agiyl Kamaldin, 32, Mark El Bernachawy, 34, and Kelen Magael Buchan, 27, all of the Montreal area, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and received prison sentences after being extradited along with Kirstein in January 2019
The fifth defendant in this case – Peter Iacino, 31, also a Canadian national – is currently a fugitive.
The FBI, the United States Secret Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated this matter. The Federal Trade Commission’s East Central Regional Office in Cleveland provided substantial assistance.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Monica E. Tait and Kimberly D. Jaimez of the Major Frauds Section.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is one of six offices participating in the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of federal law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to combat international fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors. Last week, the Department of Justice announced that a coordinated elder fraud sweep resulted in charges against more than 400 defendants over the past year.