Canadian National Who Ran ‘Grandparent Scam’ that Swindled U.S. Senior Citizens Sentenced to More Than 4 Years in Federal Prison
LOS ANGELES – A Canadian telemarketer has been sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for conning American senior citizens out of their money by impersonating their grandchildren over the telephone and asking for financial help to get their purportedly distressed relatives out of trouble in a foreign country.
Kelen Magael Buchan, 27, of Westphal, Nova Scotia, was sentenced on Tuesday by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who noted Buchan’s lead role in the scheme and said he may not have seen a fraud case “so cruel and heartless” in design. In addition to the prison term, Judge Carney ordered Buchan to pay $519,400 in restitution to more than 80 victims.
Buchan pleaded guilty on May 21 to one felony count of wire fraud. Buchan – who has been in federal custody, along with three co-defendants, since they were extradited from Canada in January – admitted in his plea agreement that he and his co-conspirators contacted their elderly U.S. victims by telephone. Buchan and his co-conspirators fraudulently induced their victims to send them money by pretending to be the victim’s grandchild or some other relative who was in distress in a foreign nation, such as Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, or the Dominican Republic.
For example, Buchan, while pretending to be the victim’s grandchild, would say that he had been involved in a car crash and needed money to cover purported automobile accident expenses. On other occasions, Buchan, once again pretending to be the victim’s grandchild, said that he had been arrested and needed his grandparents’ money to be released on bail. Other times, Buchan lied to his victims by telling them that he was a lawyer in contact with their grandchild or other relative. He then would direct the victims 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, Buchan 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, Buchan 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.
Buchan admitted in his plea agreement that in February 2012 that one of the scheme’s targeted victims was a Camarillo resident.
One of the scheme’s other victims was an 86-year-old man who wired $4,300 at the urgings of an imposter posing as the man’s grandson who claimed to have been involved in an accident in Bolivia, according to court documents. Law enforcement later found the victim’s contact information in Buchan’s residence and the transaction information was recovered from a phone seized from Buchan’s bedroom, court papers state.
A federal grand jury charged Buchan and four Canadian nationals from the Montreal area in July 2013 in a 25-count indictment alleging wire fraud. Agiyl Kamaldin, 32, pleaded guilty on May 23 to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Carney on September 9. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Co-defendants Clifford Kirstein, 29, and Mark El Bernachawy, 33, are scheduled to go to trial in this matter on December 3.
Peter Iacino, 29, also was charged in the indictment and is a fugitive believed to be in Canada.
This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 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.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In addition to a nationwide elder fraud sweep earlier this year, the Department has conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California is one of six federal prosecutorial 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.