Fraudster Pleads Guilty to Scamming Elderly Victims of more than $396,000 through Advance Fee Scheme
Falsely Told Victims They Won a Lottery or Sweepstakes, but Needed to Pay Taxes or Fees in Order to Receive the Prize
Greenbelt, Maryland – Onijah Crighton, age 23, of Chillum, Maryland, pleaded guilty on June 26, 2018, to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, in connection with a scheme to defraud more than 100 elderly victims through an advance fee scheme, specifically, by falsely representing that the victims had won a lottery or sweepstakes and demanding taxes or other fees before the victims could receive the prize.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, Matthew J. DeSarno; and Postal Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division.
According to his plea agreement, beginning in April 2013, Crighton and a co-conspirator began contacting Victim 1, an elderly man living in Virginia who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Crighton falsely told Victim 1 that he was the second-place winner of the $10 million “grand prize draw” that Publisher’s Clearing House and the Better Business Bureau sponsored. Crighton fraudulently represented that the second-place prize was $2.5 million. Over the following months, Crighton and his co-conspirator contacted Victim 1 hundreds of times, convincing Victim 1 to send the conspirators 44 payments totaling approximately $112,000. Victim 1 made the payments through Western Union, by adding money to Green Dot cards controlled by Crighton and his co-conspirator, or by sending cash in the mail.
During the course of the conspiracy, Crighton emailed a “leads list provider” to purchase a list of names and personal identification information that Crighton could use to mass-market the lottery scam to elderly individuals across the country. Crighton and other members of the conspiracy successfully defrauded over 100 elderly victims of at least $396,157.
Crighton admitted that, beginning in 2012, he also used the personal identifying information of elderly individuals to fraudulently enroll debit cards in their names without their knowledge or consent. To conceal his involvement in the scheme, Crighton listed a number of different email addresses on the debit card applications, and listed street addresses on the applications that belonged to others involved in the scheme. In this manner, Crighton enrolled or caused to be enrolled hundreds of debit cards that were applied for using the stolen identities of at least 10 elderly individuals.
Crighton and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement, Crighton will be sentenced to 57 months in prison and will be required to pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, which is at least $396,157. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis has scheduled sentencing for August 30, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners conducted the largest, coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history that involved more than 250 defendants and over one million American victims, most of whom were elderly.”
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory Bernstein and Dana J. Brusca, who are prosecuting the case.