You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 31, 2020

Fraudster Sentenced for Scamming 350 Victims Over Seven Years

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Colombian national was sentenced today to 87 months in prison for his leadership of a seven-year fraud and identity theft conspiracy that victimized more than 350 people and caused losses of nearly $2 million.

“Alberto Cortes Gomez’s crime was successful precisely because it targeted one of the most admirable qualities of its hundreds of victims: their desire to help others,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Cortes Gomez and his co-conspirators targeted innocent retail shoppers by feigning questions or a need for assistance, thus exploiting those victims’ generosity and willingness to give their time and attention to a total stranger. In doing so, Cortes Gomez and his co-conspirators broke society’s trust in a particularly pernicious way, by relying on the best in people in order to do them harm.”

According to court documents, Cortes Gomez, 39, orchestrated a nationwide scheme that targeted unsuspecting retail shoppers in order to steal their credit cards and other identity information. Cortes Gomez would travel from Florida to locations with high volumes of retail activity, such as the I-95 corridor through Virginia. While at a retail location, Cortes Gomez and co-conspirators would distract shoppers with questions seeking assistance, and other conspirators would steal the shoppers’ wallets. After altering means of identification to show the victims’ names but pictures of those working with Cortes Gomez, Cortes Gomez would direct purchases of expensive electronics and other retail goods. The members of the conspiracy would then ship the goods for resale.

“Cortes Gomez exhibited vicious and predatory greed, turning theft into a moneymaking operation at the expense of ordinary people,” said Raymond Villanueva, Washington D.C. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge. “HSI is committed to investigating fraudsters like Cortes Gomez, whose crimes impacted hundreds of unsuspecting victims.”

“Cortes Gomez planned, schemed, and defrauded hundreds of innocent people for his own personal gain,” said Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division. “I'd like to thank the men and women of the FBI who work hard every day to identify and apprehend those responsible for breaking the public's trust and taking advantage of people’s altruistic instincts to steal from them.”

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office; and Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C., made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan S. Faulconer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura M. Grimes prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-189.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Identity Theft
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Public Affairs joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated January 31, 2020