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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Serial Fraudster Pleads Guilty To Scamming Elderly Victims Out Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars In Fraudulent Payment Scheme

Michael Pizarro Had Previously Been Convicted of a Similar Offense and Continued to Perpetrate the Scheme even after his Arrest

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MICHAEL PIZARRO, a/k/a “Eric Miller,” pled guilty today before Chief United States Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein to defrauding individuals (the “Victims”) by representing to them that they had qualified for a government grant, which could be accessed only upon the payment of an up-front refundable application fee.  In actuality, the government grant did not exist and none of the Victims had been approved for such a grant.  PIZARRO continued to perpetrate this scheme even after he was arrested and released on bail.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As he admitted in court, Michael Pizarro preyed on elderly victims and others by charging them up-front fees to get government grant money that was fictitious.  In fact, there were no ‘grants’ and the ‘registration fee’ Pizarro charged his victims was just money he stole from them.”

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, the information, and other documents filed in federal court, as well as statements made in public court proceedings:

Beginning in at least February 2017 through July 25, 2019, PIZARRO called the Victims, many of whom were more than 70 years old, and told them that his name was “Eric Miller” and he was calling on behalf of a company called “National Grants.”  PIZARRO informed the Victims that they had been approved for a government grant, which was being held in escrow at an account with the “Word Bank” in Washington, D.C.  Before the funds could be released, however, the Victims would have to pay a registration fee.  In fact, none of the Victims had been approved for a grant, the grants did not exist, and no Victim ever received any funds.

In April 2018, PIZARRO was charged in New York Supreme Court in connection with his involvement with National Grants from October 2015 through January 2017.  PIZARRO pled guilty in December 2018 and was awaiting sentencing when he was arrested in connection with this scheme on May 2, 2019.  After he was released on bail, PIZARRO continued to seek contact information for additional Victims in furtherance of the scheme.  In total, not including the conduct charged in New York Supreme Court, PIZARRO defrauded the Victims out of approximately $270,000.

PIZARRO, 37, of Brooklyn, New York, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud while on pre-trial release.  That offense carries a maximum prison term of 30 years.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.  PIZARRO is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Paul A. Crotty on December 20, 2019.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the New York City Police Department. 

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Kiersten A. Fletcher and Benet J. Kearney are in charge of the prosecution. 

If you believe you have been a victim of the scheme described above, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact Wendy Olsen-Clancy, the Victim Witness Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at 866-874-8900, or wendy.olsen@usdoj.gov.  You may also report it to Detective Christopher Bastos at 917-480-7167 or christopher.bastos@nypd.org.

Topic(s): 
Elder Justice
Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 
19-271
Updated August 21, 2019