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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 21, 2015

Four South Florida Residents Charged in Sweepstakes Fraud Scheme

Four Florida residents were charged, by indictment in the Southern District of Florida, for participating in a sweepstakes fraud scheme.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and Ronald J. Verrochio, Inspector in Charge of the Miami Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), made the announcement.

Matthew Pisoni, 42, of Fort Lauderdale, Marcus Pradel, 39, of Boca Raton, John Leon, 47, of Wilton Manors, and Victor Ramirez, 35, of Aventura, were indicted for their participation in a sweepstakes fraud scheme.  The defendants are charged with conspiring to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341; conspiring to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h); and money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1)(B)(i).   The maximum statutory penalty for each count in the indictment is twenty years in prison.  Ramirez is also charged with conspiring to structure deposits, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to the indictment, unsealed today before the United States District Court in the Southern District of Florida, the four defendants falsely notified individuals by mail that they had won a substantial prize.  The letters sent by the defendants fraudulently represented that the recipients needed to pay the defendants a fee ranging from $20 to $50 to redeem their purported winnings.  During the course of the mail fraud conspiracy, more than a hundred thousand victims in the United States and abroad were fraudulently induced to pay the fees by the defendants’ misleading claims that they had won a prize.   The fraudulent letters directed victims to pay the fees in cash, or by check or money orders made payable to fictitious companies controlled directly and indirectly by the defendants and their co-conspirators. In some instances, the defendants directed co-conspirators and associates to deposit victim checks into shell companies and laundered that money, and in other instances, the criminal proceeds were laundered through international bank accounts controlled directly and indirectly by the defendants and their co-conspirators.

According to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a companion case, since at least 2010, the defendants collected over $25 million from consumers through this fraudulent sweepstakes operation.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the IRS-CI, USPIS, FTC, the Aventura Police Department and local and international law enforcement agencies.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alejandro Soto, Elijah Levitt, and H. Ron Davidson.

An indictment contains mere allegations.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Updated May 21, 2015