Texas Man Sentenced for Role in Scamming Seniors in Rhode Island and Elsewhere in Online Romance Scams
PROVIDENCE – Appearing before a federal judge in Providence, three individuals today admitted that they participated in a “Grandparent Scam” that defrauded fourteen Rhode Island seniors out of a total of more than $350,000, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.
The victims, who ranged from seventy-nine to ninety-four years of age, were contacted by telephone by callers impersonating family members or attorneys. These callers falsely told the victims that a loved one, generally a grandchild, had been arrested after being involved in a motor vehicle accident, and needed cash bail. The victims were directed to gather cash for these fake bail payments, and told to provide the money to a courier that would be sent to their home.
Bryan Valdez-Espinosa, 22, and Diego A. Alarcon, 22, of Union City, NJ; and Jason Hatcher, 40, of New York, NY, admitted that in June 2021, they traveled to New England to participate in the scam. Hatcher pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft; Alarcon and Valdez-Espinosa each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“Few things are more frightening than thinking a family member is in trouble,” said U.S. Attorney Cunha. “These defendants exploited that fear to steal from loving grandparents and line their own pockets. Thanks to superb investigative work by our local law enforcement partners and the Department of Homeland Security, I am pleased that, with today’s guilty pleas, each of these defendants will answer for their fraud.”
“These three took advantage of a grandparent’s love for a grandchild to fleece them of their hard-earned money. They caused the victims to believe a loved one was in legal trouble or in danger, using fear as a weapon to turn a profit,” said Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the Homeland Security Investigations New England Field Office. “HSI works every day alongside our partners to uncover scams like this one to help keep our seniors safe.”
According to court documents and information presented to the court, victims were scammed out of a total of $350,815. In at least one instance, a family member intervened leading to the arrest of Valdez-Espinosa who was posing as a courier. Scammers defrauded the victims out of between $9,500 and $85,000.
Valdez-Espinosa, Alarcon, and Hatcher will be sentenced on October 11. 2022. Their sentences will be determined by a federal district judge after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William J. Ferland and Christine D. Lowell.
The matter was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations.
United States Attorney Cunha thanks the Barrington, Cranston, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Hopkinton, Johnston, North Kingstown, Smithfield, and Warwick Police Departments for their investigative assistance and assistance provide residents in their community victimized by this scam.