Fraudster Sentenced to 57 Months in Federal Prison for Scamming Elderly Victims of Almost $400,000 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 – U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis sentenced Onijah Crighton, age 23, of Chillum, Maryland, today to 57 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for the federal charges of 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. There is no parole in the federal system. Judge Xinis also ordered that Crighton must pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, which is $396,157.
The sentence 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 Peter R. Rendina of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division.
“Criminals like Onijah Crighton target vulnerable individuals with these types of advance fee schemes,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur. “Our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting and deterring elder fraud schemes like this one.”
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 Publishers 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 a co-conspirator, or by sending cash in the mail.
During the course of the conspiracy, Crighton e-mailed 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 e-mail 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.
The Department of Justice, through its Elder Justice Initiative, which includes the work of many Department components, is working on multiple fronts to protect older Americans from physical, emotional, and financial abuse. The Department has aggressively prosecuted mass mailing fraud schemes, such as Jamaican lottery and psychic scams, many of which target seniors and are international in nature. The Department also launched 10 regional Elder Justice Task Forces across the country, including in Maryland, to enhance the ability of federal, state, and local authorities to work together to combat elder financial fraud and to pursue those nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their Medicare and Medicaid residents. The Department actively supports state and local efforts to prevent and combat elder abuse in a variety of ways, including helping older victims and their families by connecting them to available resources, assistance and information on its Elder Justice website: www.elderjustice.gov.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners also 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.
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