Fort Pierce man one of hundreds charged in largest ever elder fraud sweep by Justice Department
A Fort Pierce man was one of hundreds charged in what the Justice Department described Friday as the largest elder fraud sweep in the agency's history.
More than 1 million Americans, most of them elderly, were victimized, with losses exceeding $500 million. As part of the DOJ operation, 250 defendants worldwide were charged in the last year, 200 of them criminally.
"Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release. "Today is only the beginning."
In the Southern District of Florida, 20 people were charged with involvement with various fraud schemes totaling more than $103 million.
"Unfortunately, elderly citizens are sometimes vulnerable to financial exploitation by unscrupulous fraudsters bent on making ill-gotten gains," said Robert F. Lasky, FBI Miami's special agent in charge.
The Fort Pierce man, Marvin Damian Coote, 36, was indicted in May on conspiracy, fraud, gun and drug charges in relation to a fraudulent lottery scheme with ties to Jamaica.
According to court documents, Coote and others would telephone people to notify them that they had won the lottery, but had to send payment to secure their prize. Victims paid up to several thousand dollars in order to collect their "winnings."
Targets were typically older than 70. Coote and his organization kept the victims’ money without paying any lottery and sweepstakes winnings, according to a news release.
Coote pleaded guilty to some of the charges and was sentenced in December to 41 months in prison. He was ordered to pay $225,995 in restitution.
These cases also were prosecuted in Florida at part of the operation:
- Lottery fraud: Claude Shaw, 50, of Miramar, was charged in connection with a fraudulent lottery scheme tied to Jamaica. Shaw would tell victims they had won more than $1 million, but had to pay to secure the prize. Shaw pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $128,440 in restitution.
- Grandparent scam: Tiffany Strobl, 38, of Ohio, was charged with fraud and identity theft charges for stealing $5,000 from an 81-year-old woman living in Iowa by telling her that her grandson needed bail money. Strobl pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $9,548 in restitution.
- Advertising scam: Strobl was also charged with possession of false identification documents and bank fraud after stealing $6,800 from a man on Craigslist looking to buy a mobile home. A search of Strobl’s book bag incident to arrest revealed six driver's licenses with Strobl's photo, but different names, dates of birth and license numbers. After a guilty plea, Strobl was sentenced to five months in prison.
- Lottery fraud: Christian Eduardo Villalobos Hernandez, 35, of Costa Rica, was indicted on Jan. 25 on several mail fraud and money laundering charges. Hernandez and others would tell people they had won millions of dollars and had to mail or wire large amounts of money to addresses in Miami, Costa Rica and elsewhere, his indictment said. About $9 million was collected in two and a half years. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurice Johnson.
- Money laundering: Roda Taher, 38, of Lebanon; Geanis Gonzalez, 31, of 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; Jamie Vices Castillo, 41, of Pembroke Pines; Hanan Jaafar, 26, of Lebanon; 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, all were indicted on money laundering and bank fraud charges. About $94 million was laundered by the group in the past decade. They used bank accounts opened in the names of shell corporations to launder funds from romance frauds, email hacking schemes and inheritance and lottery scams.
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