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Press Release

Three Indicted for Publisher’s Clearing House Imposter Scam Targeting Elderly Victims

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

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that Jowayne C. Godfrey, 24 years old, of Margate, Florida, Vinmar Y.A. Mitchell, 25 years old, of Roosevelt, New York, and Ariel S. Bagalue, 31 years old, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, were arrested and charged by indictment with conspiracy to money launder for a group of schemers that was targeting elderly victims throughout the United States in a Publisher’s Clearing House scam. The indictment alleges that the participants in this scheme duped their victims into believing they had won a large prize, preyed on their elderly victims’ trust and false hopes of collecting millions of dollars, and persuaded their victims to deplete their life savings and go into debt to pay supposed sweepstakes taxes and fees, which the schemers, including defendants Godfrey, Mitchell, and Bagalue, stole for themselves.

According to the indictment, from approximately February 2020 through February 2023, imposters posing as Publisher’s Clearing House representatives called elderly Americans and informed them they had won millions of dollars and new cars in the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. The imposters convinced the victims that in order to collect their significant winnings, they had to pay up-front taxes and fees. The imposters directed the victims about how to make the payments, including making direct deposits to bank accounts belonging to schemers, buying gift cards and mailing them to the schemers or providing the card numbers and PIN codes over the phone to the schemers, and mailing checks and cash to the schemers. If a victim made one bogus tax or fee payment, the schemers called back and requested more tax and fee payments, falsely claiming that the additional payments were needed in order for the victim to claim the sweepstakes prize. According to the indictment, defendants Godfrey, Mitchell, and Bagalue laundered and attempted to launder approximately $400,000 of victim funds from the scheme. The indictment sets forth how the defendants received the victim funds and then moved the money around in smaller transactions designed to conceal the source, location, and control of the funds, kept some for themselves and passed the remainder on to other schemers.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years of imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, Philadelphia, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nancy E. Potts.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated July 24, 2023

Elder Justice
Financial Fraud