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Press Release

Brazilian National Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Launder $20 Million in Proceeds from the Telexfree Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Authorities recovered $20 million concealed in mattress box spring

BOSTON – A Brazilian national pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston to conspiring to launder approximately $20 million in proceeds from the TelexFree pyramid scheme.


Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and one count of money laundering.  U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin scheduled sentencing for Dec. 7, 2017.


In April 2014, agents executed a search warrant at the headquarters of TelexFree Inc., a massive pyramid scheme based in Marlborough, Mass., that caused billions of dollars in losses to nearly two million victims.  Later that same day, Carlos Wanzeler, one of the founders of the company, fled first to Canada and then to Brazil, his native country.  In his haste to flee the United States, however, Wanzeler left millions of dollars hidden in the greater Boston area. 


In mid-2015, an intermediary working on Wanzeler’s behalf contacted an associate for help transferring the money from the United States to Brazil.  The associate, who later cooperated with federal authorities, arranged with Wanzeler’s representative in Brazil to launder cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian Reals, and then transfer it to Brazilian accounts.  In January 2017, Rocha, working as a courier for Wanzeler’s representative in Brazil, flew from Brazil to New York City.  Rocha later met the cooperating witness in Hudson, Mass., where Rocha gave him a suitcase containing $2.2 million of Wanzeler’s hidden TelexFree money, intending that the cooperating witness would help launder the cash out of the United States.  After the meeting, agents followed Rocha to an apartment in Westborough, Mass., and he was later arrested.  A search of the apartment resulted in the seizure of approximately $20 million in cash found hidden in a mattress box spring. 


Wanzeler and TelexFree co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014 on charges that they operated TelexFree as a massive pyramid scheme.  Merrill pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced in March 2017 to six years in prison.  Wanzeler remains a fugitive.


The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. Rocha will also be subject to deportation proceedings. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 


Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb and Matthew Etre, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, made the announcement today.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew E. Lelling and Neil J. Gallagher Jr. of Weinreb’s Economic Crimes Unit are prosecuting the case.

Updated October 19, 2017

Financial Fraud