LOS ANGELES – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced today that it is welcoming 14 additional federal prosecutors’ offices as they join the Justice Department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and to bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice.
Since 2019, current Strike Force members — including the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, six U.S. Attorney’s Offices including the Central District of California, the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations — have brought successful cases against the largest and most harmful global elder fraud schemes and worked with foreign law enforcement to disrupt criminal enterprises, disable their infrastructure and bring perpetrators to justice.
Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat sophisticated fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults. The expansion will increase the total number of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices comprising the Strike Force from six to 20, including all of the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and New York.
“We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorneys’ offices participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”
“Our Office, along with our law enforcement partners across the District, have diligently pursued criminals who target and harm older adults, including in cases ranging from transnational romance scams, investment schemes, and even the kidnapping of a local older adult,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “Members of our elder justice team also regularly conduct outreach to educate local seniors and to help them avoid new scams. Our goal is to protect our community from economic exploitation by providing information on how to avoid becoming a victim. When that fails, however, we will use all of our tools to investigate crimes that target our most vulnerable residents and vigorously prosecute those responsible for elder abuse.”
The Strike Force expansion will further enhance the Department’s existing efforts to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the period from September 2021 to September 2022, Department personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged. The matters tackled by the Department and its partners ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts were also made over the last year to return money to fraud victims.
This past year, the elder justice cases the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles prosecuted included:
- Paul Ricky Mata, 59, a former Upland-based financial advisor now serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for committing a real estate investment scam that caused his clients – many of them elderly people who had invested their retirement savings – to lose more than $12 million.
- George Ugochukwu Egwumba, 47, of Cypress, and Princewell Arinze Duru, 33, of Sacramento, who are scheduled to be sentenced on October 17 after a federal jury found them guilty on June 15 of criminal charges for participating in an extensive, long-lasting, multimillion-dollar conspiracy – much of it committed by Nigerian nationals – that perpetrated a wide variety of frauds, including those committed against elders.
- Anuj Mahendrabhai Patel, 32, of Lake Elsinore, is serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for participating in an international fraud scheme in which he helped collect more than $550,000 in cash conned out of elderly victims by other co-conspirators pretending to be federal agents threatening the victims with arrest on bogus warrants.
As part of the Central District of California’s elder fraud efforts, it engages in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. In April 2022, our district's Elder Justice Coordinator gave a presentation to an audience of older adults at a local NGO's “Senior Safety Summit,” identifying the most reported scams currently targeting older adults, explaining cryptocurrency's role in prevalent scams, and providing tips on how to spot and hopefully avoid falling for any scam.
The Central District of California is comprised of approximately 20 million residents and the seven counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.
The Department of Justice today also highlighted two other efforts, including success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams.
In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for payments. Notifications were made to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the Department and were later victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return for a fee. More than 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 million, and thousands more are eligible to receive checks. Also notified were consumers who paid fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. In the past year, the Department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March of 2020 more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million as a result of a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its aiding and abetting of wire fraud.
Over the past year, the Department pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scams.” These scams typically begin when a fraudster, often based overseas, contacts an older adult and poses as either a grandchild, other family member or someone calling on behalf of a family member. Call recipients are told that their family member is in jeopardy and is urgently in need of money. When recently sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal judge described such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes. Reporting from consumers about fraud and fraud attempts is critical to law enforcements efforts to investigate and prosecute schemes targeting older adults. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professional who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting or connect them with agencies, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time. English, Spanish and other languages are available. More information about the Department’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.
Some of the cases that comprise today’s announcement are charges, which are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.