Superseding Indictment Charges 3 More for Involvement in Scheme to Steal and Sell Catalytic Converters
Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Ketty Larco-Ward, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division, today announced that a federal grand jury in New Haven has returned a seven-count indictment charging HOWARD CHAMBERS, 32, a citizen of Jamaica residing in Waterbury, with fraud and money laundering offenses stemming from his alleged participation in a sweepstakes scam that defrauded primarily elderly victims across the country of millions of dollars.
The indictment was returned on October 17, and Chambers was arrested this morning. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria E. Garcia in New Haven, entered pleas of not guilty to the charges, and was released on a $150,000 bond into home detention, with electronic monitoring, pending trial.
The indictment alleges that, since at least 2018, Chambers and others used a sweepstakes scheme to induce primarily elderly victims to provide them with money. As part of this scheme, scammers notified victims, typically by telephone, that they won a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. The victims were told that in order to collect their winnings, they must pay fees and taxes. Following the initial phone call, Chambers and others mailed the victims fake documents, including a “winning notification” letter from Publishers Clearing House and a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating that the victims were required by law to pay taxes on their winnings. Victims sent cash, money orders or checks through the mail to various addresses in Connecticut, including an address in East Hartford, and throughout the U.S.
The indictment also alleges that Chambers and others moved money received from victims through various accounts in different companies’ names, including a limited liability company registered in Connecticut with Chambers as its managing member and agent. Conspirators sometimes used victims as intermediaries to receive money from other victims and then move that money to members of this scheme. For example, at least one victim received checks and cash in the mail from people she believed were “sponsors” who were helping her pay the fees to receive her winnings, but actually were other victims. The victim deposited the checks into her bank account, withdrew cash, and mailed the cash to various addresses as directed by the conspirators.
The indictment charges Chambers with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each of these offenses carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.
U.S. Attorney Avery stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather L. Cherry.
The Justice Department has established a National Elder Fraud Hotline to provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. The Hotline is staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers. Case managers assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed. When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller. The Hotline’s toll-free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).
Read more about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat elder fraud and abuse here.