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Press Release

Eastern District of North Carolina Takes Part in Department’s Wide-Ranging Efforts to Protect Older Adults

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Justice Department announced today the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the Department and its law enforcement partners tackled matters that 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. Today, the Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating overseas.

 “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 seniors and older adults deserve our greatest care and respect,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “Our office will continue to investigate and prosecute those that target the most vulnerable among us. In the past year alone, we have put individuals behind bars for scams that involved stealing government benefits, pensions and fake romances.”

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.

This past year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina prosecuted 3 cases in support of this effort.  On October 15, 2021, a Raeford, North Carolina woman, Tracey McNeill, was sentenced to 12 months and a day imprisonment for wire fraud.  According to court documents, McNeill worked as a certified nursing assistant.  Over a two-year period, McNeill fraudulently obtained Veterans Affairs (VA) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) benefits by executing a power of attorney over a disabled U.S. Army veteran in her care.  The investigation revealed that McNeill arranged for the victim, whom had dementia, to move into her home and then directed the VA and OPM to deposit his benefits into her bank account.  A financial analysis showed that McNeill spent most of the funds on personal expenses, including rent, utilities, credit card payments, and personal purchases.  In addition, McNeill completed beneficiary forms in which she listed herself as the beneficiary of the victim’s retirement and life insurance benefits. 

On February 3, 2022, a Raleigh, North Carolina man, Furman Ford, was sentenced to 132 months in prison for mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.  According to court records and other evidence presented at trial, Ford was a New York Life (NYL) financial advisor who advised a 72-year-old client who had recently inherited real property valued at $1.3 million.  Ford assisted in the sale of the property and the creation of a charitable annuity trust with NYL using the sale proceeds.  As part of his responsibilities as the victim’s financial agent, Ford drafted and submitted letters of withdrawal from the victim’s annuity account to pay for certain expenses.  During the investigation, agents identified 20 separate fraudulent letters of withdrawal drafted by Ford and submitted to NYL headquarters on behalf of the victim.  The funds were diverted to Ford’s personal checking account without the victim’s knowledge or consent and used to fund Ford’s purchase of various personal items, including a BMW vehicle, Rolex watches, firearms, child support, and a cruise to the Bahamas.  In total, Ford stole over $1.3 million from the victim.

On March 17, 2022, a Smyrna, Georgia man, Oluwadamilare Kolaogunbule, was sentenced to 71 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering.  According to court documents and other information presented in court, between 2014 and 2018, Kolaogunbule opened, maintained, and controlled approximately 20 different bank accounts at multiple financial institutions that were used to launder approximately $2.5 million in romance scam proceeds.  Romance scammers exploit victims who are looking for companionship by creating fake profiles on online dating websites that include false personal details, such as the death of a spouse or military service.  After creating the illusion of a romantic relationship to gain the victim’s trust, the scammer will typically solicit the victim for money to alleviate some fabricated crisis, such as a medical or business emergency.  In this case, more than 60 victims from across the United States, many of whom were elderly, were defrauded by romance fraudsters who directed them to send funds to Kolaogunbule’s various accounts.

The Department also highlighted three other efforts: expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams. 

The Department announced that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice it is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.

In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission 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 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. [ET]. 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.

Updated October 4, 2022

Topics
Elder Justice