RI Man Charged in International Telemarketing Scheme Targeting U.S. Citizens
Department of Justice announces that more than 250 defendants targeted by federal and state law enforcement have been charged in largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history
PROVIDENCE, RI – A Pawtucket, Rhode Island man is among more than 250 defendants from around the globe named in criminal, civil and forfeiture fraud cases brought by federal and state law enforcement against individuals and organizations that allegedly victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom are elderly, it was announced today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and United States Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced today the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history. The cases involve more than 250 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly. The cases include criminal, civil, and forfeiture actions across more than 50 federal districts, including Rhode Island. Of the defendants, 200 were charged criminally. In each case, offenders engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused losses of more than half a billion dollars. The Department coordinated its announcement with the FTC and state Attorneys General, who independently filed numerous cases targeting elder frauds within the sweep period.
Attorney General Sessions was joined in the announcement by FBI Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich; Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell; FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen; and Kansas Attorney General and President of the National Association of Attorneys General Derek Schmidt.
“The Justice Department and its partners are taking unprecedented, coordinated action to protect elderly Americans from financial threats, both foreign and domestic,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are. When criminals steal the hard-earned life savings of older Americans, we will respond with all the tools at the Department’s disposal – criminal prosecutions to punish offenders, civil injunctions to shut the schemes down, and asset forfeiture to take back ill-gotten gains. Today is only the beginning. I have directed Department prosecutors to coordinate with both domestic law enforcement partners and foreign counterparts to stop these criminals from exploiting our seniors.”
The actions charged a variety of fraud schemes, ranging from mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds to individual incidences of identity theft and theft by guardians. A number of cases involved transnational criminal organizations that defrauded hundreds of thousands of elderly victims, while others involved a single relative or fiduciary who took advantage of an individual victim. The schemes charged in these cases caused losses to more than a million victims.
In Rhode Island, United States Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch and Raymond D. Moss, Acting Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Boston Division, announced the arrest of Shawn Whitfield, 47, of Pawtucket, on a federal criminal complaint charging him with mail fraud, conspiracy, wire fraud, and international money laundering.
According to court documents filed in Rhode Island, it is alleged that Whitfield participated in a telemarketing lottery scam originating out of Jamaica that targeted United States residents, many of them seniors. It is alleged the scammers led victims to believe that they have won a lottery. However, the cash or prizes they purportedly won would not be released without upfront payment of taxes or fees.
It is alleged that between April 2015 and January 2018, Whitfield collected an estimated $98,100 in payments from at least 47 individuals from 23 states who fell victim to the lottery telemarketing scam. It is alleged that the majority of funds collected by Whitfield were transferred electronically to individuals in Jamaica.
In this particular telemarketing scam, an individual in the United States receives an unsolicited telephone call from an individual in Jamaica claiming to work for a well-known organization, such as Publishers Clearinghouse. The scammer tells the victims that they have won large cash prizes, vacation getaways, vehicles, or other prizes. However, in order to collect their winnings, the individual is instructed to send money to pay for processing fees or taxes on their winnings. The scammer typically assures people that they will receive their prize shortly after the lottery has received their payment.
It is alleged in this matter that at least 47 individuals in 23 states were contacted via telephone and told of their purported winnings. They were instructed to send upfront payments for taxes and fees to Shawn Whitfield at his Pawtucket, R.I., residence. An investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that Whitfield collected an estimated $98,100, most of which was later transferred electronically by Whitfield to individuals in Jamaica. Additionally, investigators determined that between January 2016 and May 2017, there were 2,167 successfully completed incoming telephone calls to Whitfield’s cell phone from multiple telephone numbers in Jamaica and 415 successfully completed outgoing telephone calls from Whitfield’s cell phone to multiple telephone numbers in Jamaica.
USPIS agents, assisted by members of the Pawtucket Police Department, Rhode Island State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service, executed a court-authorized search of Whitfield’s residence on Tuesday. Whitfield was arrested simultaneously at his place of employment in Norwood, Mass., by USPIS agents, with the assistance of members of the Norwood Police Department. Whitfield was released on $10,000 unsecured bond and GPS monitoring following his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Providence before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Shawn Whitfield is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise M. Barton, Elder Justice Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island.
Actions against the mass-mailing fraud industry
As part of the initiative, the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and others, brought numerous cases this past week in a coordinated strike against more than 43 mass-mailing fraud operators, including criminal charges against six individuals. In addition, law enforcement agents executed 14 premises search warrants from Las Vegas to south Florida, served numerous asset seizure warrants, and coordinated with the Vancouver Police in Canada, who executed over 20 warrants, including search warrants on business premises.
“The defendants targeted elderly and vulnerable consumers both in the United States and abroad, using U.S. addresses and the U.S. mails to try to legitimize their fraudulent schemes,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue. “They sold false promises of life-changing prizes that never came true. We will pursue the perpetrators of these mail schemes wherever they are located, and hold them accountable.”
These recently filed cases particularly targeted transnational criminal actors who collectively defrauded at least a million victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, just one of the schemes prosecuted criminally by the Consumer Protection Branch operated from 14 foreign countries to cost American victims more than $30 million. Click here for map showing a transnational, single fraud scheme.
Mass-mailing fraud inflicts hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to elderly U.S. victims each year. Department prosecutors and U.S. Postal Inspectors have taken a comprehensive approach to combatting this fraud, disrupting and prosecuting individuals who manage the schemes, artists who draft the fraudulent solicitations, list brokers who supply victim lists, and individuals who collect victim payments.
Actions against other elder fraud schemes
Prosecutors across the country from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, the Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices have heeded the call to focus resources on elder fraud cases. Over 50 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department Components filed elder fraud cases in the last year. Some examples of the elder financial exploitation prosecuted by the Department include:
- “Lottery phone scams,” in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
- “Grandparent scams,” which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
- “Romance scams,” which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
- “IRS imposter schemes,” which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes;
- “Guardianship schemes,” which siphon seniors’ financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians.
Many of these cases illustrate how an elderly American can lose his or her life savings to a duplicitous relative, guardian, or stranger who gains the victim’s trust. The devastating effects these cases have on victims and their families, both financially and psychologically, make prosecuting elder fraud a key Department priority.
The Department has partnered with Senior Corps, a national service program administered by the federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service, to educate seniors and prevent further victimization. The Senior Corps program engages more than 245,000 older adults in intensive service each year, who in turn, serve more than 840,000 additional seniors, including 332,000 veterans.
Using its vast network operating in more than 30,000 locations, Senior Corps volunteers will communicate about elder fraud to potential victims across the country and will use their skills, knowledge and experience to educate their peers and caregivers about the most prolific types of schemes and how to avoid them.
- If you are a victim or know a victim of elder fraud, you can call 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to ftc.gov/complaint
- For downloadable Elder Abuse Prevention resources and for information about community outreach programs in Rhode Island, visit the United States Attorney’s Office’s Elder Justice Initiative web page at https://www.justice.gov/usao-ri/elder-justice