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Press Release

Canadian Man Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison For Swindling Elderly Victims In $8 Million Telemarketing Scam From The Philippines

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — A Canadian man who cooperated with U.S. law enforcement and voluntarily traveled from the Philippines to face federal prosecution was sentenced to seven years in prison for swindling 168 elderly victims nationwide of approximately $8 million in a telemarketing fraud scheme, federal law enforcement officials announced today.

The defendant, AUSTIN ETCHES, 56, “was up to his eyeballs” in the “heinous” crime, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said in imposing the sentence on Friday in Federal Court. Etches, who has remained in federal custody since he voluntarily traveled to the United States in June 2013, was also ordered to pay restitution totaling approximately $8 million.

Etches, who last resided in Toronto before Manila, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in June of this year and cooperated in the investigation, which has resulted in pending charges against two alleged co-schemers, who are believed to be outside the United States.

Citing letters to the judge from widows and retirees who were among the victims, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Cannon argued in a sentencing memo, “Many of the victims were at the most vulnerable point of their lives, between their advanced ages, the death of their spouses, and their or their spouse’s health issues, not to mention their need for income.”

According to court documents, Etches and two co-schemers operated a series of companies through telemarketing call centers located in and around Manila. Between 2008 and 2012, they raised more than $8 million by fraudulently selling phony certificates of deposit and non-existent real estate investments to American senior citizens. They made false statements about the risks of the investments, the expected and actual rates of return, and the ways in which investors’ funds would be used. They provided investors with fraudulent account statements purporting to show that investments had increased in value, knowing that they had misappropriated the funds and the investments were worthless.

One elderly victim attended Etches’ sentencing with her son, who spoke on her behalf. He noted that his mother was an emigrant from Yugoslavia, and his parents had worked their entire lives in factory jobs. They managed to save $161,000, all of which Etches and others stole. The son described how the schemers hounded his mother with repeated phone calls, and they stopped calling her only when her son intervened.

In late 2013, related federal fraud charges were filed in Chicago against JONATHAN PAPA, 42, who is believed to be in the Philippines, and METHSIRI PALLIYAGURU, 56, who was formerly in the Philippines and is now believed to be in Canada. The charges are not evidence of guilt and they are presumed innocent.

The sentence was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Robert J. Holley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Tony Gómez, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago. The FBI’s Los Angeles office and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission assisted in the investigation.

Updated July 23, 2015