Twenty Charged in Southern District of Florida as Part of Largest Elder Fraud Sweep in Department of Justice History
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida announced the largest ever coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in the Department of Justice’s history involving more than 250 charged defendants around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly. The cases include criminal, civil, and forfeiture actions across 50 federal districts. 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. In the Southern District of Florida a total of 20 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving over $103 million.
Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Mark Selby, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Brian Swain, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), and Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, join in the announcement.
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.
“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.”
“We cannot allow our elderly and vulnerable citizens to continue to be the target of fraud schemes. For that reason, the U.S Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners – criminal and civil – have joined forces to combat Florida-based fraud schemes victimizing the elderly in our community and throughout our nation,” stated U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “We will bring to justice those who target the elderly and defraud them out of their life savings.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to work tirelessly with our partners both in the U.S. and abroad, to ensure that the Postal Service is not used to perpetuate predatory schemes that target the elderly,” said Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Miami Division. “Today’s operation is a great example of how law enforcement from all over the world is working together to that end.”
“We will not allow criminals to target some of the most vulnerable members of our community and take away what they have worked a life time for,” said Mark Selby, Special Agent in Charge of HSI in Miami. “HSI is committed to working with local, state, federal and international law enforcement partners to bring these individuals to justice.”
“The U.S. Secret Service remains committed to investigating cyber based criminal schemes,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian Swain, U.S. Secret Service Miami Field Office.
“Unfortunately, elderly citizens are sometimes vulnerable to financial exploitation by unscrupulous fraudsters bent on making ill-gotten gains,” said Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “In this case, the alleged swindlers used a variety of scams to collect and then launder over $94 million. The FBI and our partners are continuously adapting our investigative techniques to bring to justice offenders who take advantage of the elderly.”
The following cases from the Southern District of Florida were charged between February 2017 and February 22, 2018:
1. United States v. Claude Shaw, Case No 17-60056-CR-Dimitrouleas
On February 21, 2017, Claude Shaw, 50, of Miramar, was charged with two counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud in connection with a fraudulent lottery scheme tied to Jamaica. Shaw pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and on June 2, 2017, was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment, to be followed by three years supervised release. Shaw was also ordered to pay $128,440 in restitution.
According to court documents, between September 2013 and August 2015, Shaw participated in a scheme where victims throughout the United States received telephone calls that falsely informed such victims they had won over $1 million in a lottery, which required such victims to pay money in advance in order to secure their prize. The victims were instructed on how, and to whom, to send their money, which included an instruction to send their money to Shaw. Victims sent over $100,000 to Shaw, who then forwarded a portion of the money to Jamaica. Victims never received any lottery winnings.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USPIS. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Arturo DeCastro with the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice Civil Division.
2. United States v. Marvin Damian Coote, Case No. 17-14041-CR-Marra
On May 30, 2017, Marvin Damian Coote, 36, of Fort Pierce, was indicted on conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and wire fraud among other charges. Coote pled guilty and was sentenced on December 1, 2017, to 41 months imprisonment, to be followed by three years supervised release. Coote was ordered to pay $225,995.68 in restitution.
According to court documents, between March 2011 and May 1, 2017, Coote participated in a mail and wire fraud conspiracy in St. Lucie County in which, like the Shaw matter described above, co-conspirators telephoned victims to notify them that they had won a lottery that required such victims to send payment in advance in order to secure their prize. Victims paid fees of several hundred to several thousand dollars in order to collect their purported lottery winnings. The conspirators kept the victims’ money without paying any lottery and sweepstakes winnings. Victims targeted in this scheme were elderly individuals, typically over the age of 70. The financial transactions that were part of the scheme included the use of United States Postal Service, MoneyGram, Western Union and Green Dot cards.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of USPIS, ICE-HSI and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Marton Gyires and Stephen Carlton.
3. United States v. Christian Villalobos Hernandez, Case No. 18-20052-CR-Martinez
Christian Eduardo Villalobos Hernandez, 35, of San Jose, Costa Rica, was indicted on January 25, 2018, for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, international money laundering and money laundering. According to the Indictment, starting in or around February 2015 through in or around August 2017, several Costa Rican and Venezuelan citizens, including Hernandez, Andres Pacheco Fonseca (“Fonseca”) and other known co-conspirators, devised and implemented a scheme to unlawfully enrich themselves by contacting victims by telephone, letter or fax and falsely informing them that they had won millions of dollars in a lottery or sweepstake.
As alleged, the conspirators persuaded victims through false and fraudulent representations that in order to collect their winnings they had to send by mail and wire transfer large amounts of cash and money orders to addresses in Miami, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, and to have those same funds deposited in corporate and personal bank accounts the conspirators controlled here in the United States. Within days, the victims’ funds were sent by wire transfer from the corporate and personal accounts located in the United States to corporate and personal bank accounts in Costa Rica that were controlled by Hernandez, Fonseca, their co-conspirators, and their family and friends. In total, approximately $9 million was sent by wire transfer from their accounts in the United States to corporate and personal bank accounts they controlled in Costa Rica.
Mr. Greenberg commends the investigative efforts of USPIS. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Maurice Johnson.
4. United States v. Tiffany Strobl, Case No. 17-60128-CR-Dimitrouleas
Tiffany Strobl, 38, of Ohio, was charged for bank fraud, wire fraud, use of an unauthorized access device and identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud an elderly victim. According to court documents, Strobl used a stolen identity to open a bank account at TD Bank and then deposited $5,000 into that account. Those funds came from an 81 year-old woman living in Iowa who Strobl contacted in February 2017. Strobl informed the victim that her grandson was in jail and requested the victim to wire $5,000 to a TD Bank account so that her grandson could post bond. The victim complied and later learned that her grandson had never been arrested and had not called her for money.
Strobl pled guilty in October 2017, and was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment, to be followed by one year supervised release and ordered to pay $9,548.25 in restitution.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USSS. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anita White.
5. United States v. Tiffany Strobl, Case No. 17-60066-CR-Dimitrouleas
In March 2017, Tiffany Strobl, 38, of Ohio, was charged with possession of false identification documents and bank fraud. In mid-February 2017, a victim saw an advertisement for a mobile home on Craigslist that was purportedly being sold by an individual out of Salt Lake City, Utah. The victim communicated with the seller via email and text message and was to pay $6,800 for the mobile home through a website called Ebay Motors. The victim initiated a wire transfer for the purchase of the mobile home through a link on Ebay Motors that was linked to a BB&T Bank account number. Strobl had opened the BB&T account using false and fraudulent identification documents. Strobl attempted to withdraw the funds deposited into the account by the victim who, when contacted by the bank, instructed the bank to stop the transaction because he had subsequently seen on Craigslist the same mobile home for sale in Kansas. A search of Strobl’s book bag incident to arrest, revealed six driver licenses, each bearing the same photograph of Strobl, but with different names, dates of birth, and license numbers.
After a guilty plea, Strobl was sentenced in June 2017, to five months imprisonment, to be followed by three years supervised release.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of USSS. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anita White.
MONEY LAUNDERING OF SCAM PROCEEDS
6. United States v. Roda Taher, et al, Case No. 17-60223-CR-Ungaro
United States v. Luis Pujols, Case No. 17-20702-CR-Martinez
One indictment charged Roda Taher, 38, of Beirut, Lebanon, Geanis Gonzalez, 31, of Peyton Colorado, Alfredo Tovar, 36, of Miami Gardens, Quiana Velasco, 35, of Miami, Jose Daniel Estrella, 38, of Hallandale, Pedro Reyes, 38, of Hialeah, Robinson Castillo, 32, of Pembroke Pines and Jamie Vices Castillo, 41, of Pembroke Pines, with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering, and conducting transactions in criminally derived property. Hanan Jaafar, 26, of Beirut Lebanon, is also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
According to the Indictment, from 2008 to the present, Taher managed and supervised a criminal organization engaged in money laundering and transactions in criminally derived property that received approximately $94 million in fraudulent proceeds. The organization utilized bank accounts opened in the names of shell corporations to receive the proceed of various fraudulent schemes, including romance frauds, email hacking schemes, inheritance and lottery scams that victimized individuals, including elderly individuals, as well as corporations. Taher would recruit individuals to act as “money mules,” establishing the shell corporations in the money mules’ names. The defendants would then have the money mules open bank accounts throughout South Florida in the names of their shell corporations, instructing the mules to falsely represent to the banks that the shell corporations were legitimate businesses engaged in the import, export, or sale of various goods. Once the bank accounts received money wired from a fraud victim, the defendant would instruct the money mules to wire money to other accounts overseas.
A second indictment charged Luis Angel de Jesus Alfonseca Pujols, 24, of Sunrise, Gary Alberto Camillo, 26, of Pembroke Pines, Jean-Phillipe Etienne, 25, of Pembroke Pines, Randy Eliessel Santos, 29, of Hollywood, and Cosme Daniel Enrique Vasquez, 36, of Miramar, with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, international money laundering, money laundering and bank fraud. Karina Marie Ocasio, 24, of Weston, is also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, money laundering, and bank fraud.
Alberto Camillo, Jean-Phillipe Etienne and Randy Eliessel Santos have pled guilty.
Mr. Greenberg commends the investigative efforts of the FBI, USSS and ICE-HSI. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jared Strauss, Michael Walleisa and Dwayne Williams.
A criminal complaint, information or indictment is a charging instrument containing allegations. All defendants are presumed innocent, unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.