Man Who Preyed On Vulnerable With Sweepstakes Scam Sentenced To Prison
Loss of Nearly $350,000 to Over a Hundred Victims
A South King County man who preyed on people across the country with a phony sweepstakes scam, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to two years in prison, three years of supervised release and $238,346 in restitution announced Acting United States Attorney Annette L. Hayes. EUGENE MAGANYA, 30, of Des Moines, Washington was indicted and arrested in February 2014, after a victim alerted law enforcement that he had sent a money order to a commercial post office business in Covington, Washington. The investigation revealed that more than 120 people had sent money orders or wired funds to various false identities used by MAGANYA. The victims sent the money thinking it was a fee for processing sweepstakes winnings. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly noted the scam specifically targeted those who are “older and more vulnerable.”
According to records filed in the case, MAGANYA and co-conspirators in California sent out letters indicating the recipients had won a substantial sweepstake prize. The letters contained a check, and the recipients were told to deposit the check and send a portion of the money back as a fee to process the sweepstakes winnings. The checks were bogus, but before the recipient knew the check would not clear, the victim had withdrawn funds for the “fee” and sent it back to the scammers. The man who originally tipped off police had sent a money order for $2600 to one of MAGANYA’s false identities at the commercial mail box location. The day after MAGANYA’s arrest, the operators of the mail box store alerted police when another letter arrived for that same false identity – inside was $1000 cash from a 77-year-old woman who thought she too had won a sweepstakes.
At the time of his arrest, law enforcement discovered false drivers’ licenses in seven different names, all with MAGANYA’s picture. Agents contacted MoneyGram and Western Union and requested a list of all payments that had been sent to one of the fake identities that MAGANYA had in his possession at the time of his arrest. According to MoneyGram and Western Union, their records showed that over 120 victims had sent $346,760 in funds to the fake identities that MAGANYA possessed. Three co-conspirators were arrested in California and are being prosecuted there as well.
Writing to the court, Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Woods described the impact on the victims. “This was a cruel scheme. It preyed upon people’s hopes and wishes, leading them to believe that they had won a substantial amount of money. Many of the victims undoubtedly were down on their luck, and the letter must have appeared as a godsend. Very few of the victims likely could afford to lose the money that they did. Many of them lost thousands of dollars. Just as important, many of the victims emerged from the case scarred, less likely to trust others….”
Investigators were able to trace $238,346 of the wired funds to specific victims, but were unable to identify the victims associated with about $100,000 of wired funds.
The Federal Trade Commission has information on the sweepstakes scam here. As the FTC notes on the webpage, “Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.”
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Covington Police Department and the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Woods.