Eight indicted in nationwide scam against grandparents | USAO-SDCA
Deputy United States Attorney Oleksandra “Sasha” Johnson (619) 546-9769
SUMMARY OF THE PRESS RELEASE – August 25, 2021
SAN DIEGO – Eight people are indicted in an unsealed federal grand jury indictment this week, charged with participating in a criminal enterprise that stole millions of dollars from elderly victims in San Diego County and across the country.
According to statements made by prosecutors in court, the defendants defrauded more than $ 2 million from more than 70 elderly victims across the country, including at least 10 in San Diego County, by telling them false stories according to which their grandchildren were in great difficulty and needed money. quick.
“This regime has left many elderly victims financially and emotionally devastated,” Interim US Attorney Randy Grossman said. “It is unreasonable to target the elderly and exploit their love for their grandchildren. Elder fraud is a serious crime against some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens. We are committed to addressing all types of elder abuse in our community. “
“These defendants were part of a large network of individuals who systematically targeted elderly Americans by taking advantage of their concern for their loved ones. The Ministry of Justice is committed to prosecuting those who participate in such schemes targeting the vulnerable, ”said Deputy Deputy Attorney General Arun G. Rao of the Consumer Protection Division of the Civil Division. “We are grateful to our partners in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California and the FBI in advancing the Department’s efforts against organized elder fraud, and to the San Diego County Attorney’s Office. . “
This is the first case investigated by the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, which is a collaboration between the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the District Attorney’s Office and all agencies responsible for the San Diego County Law Enforcement. The Elder Justice Task Force was established in February 2020 and is considered the first comprehensive law enforcement effort to this end across the country.
“Seniors fraud is a massive and growing problem as our county’s population ages, with losses reaching billions of dollars nationwide,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “The San Diego Elder Justice Task Force was established to combine resources, experience and capabilities to have a sophisticated and coordinated law enforcement response to this battle. “
“This Elder Justice Task Force, the first of its kind, harnesses the power of collaboration and innovation to effectively eliminate organized crime networks that target seniors in San Diego County and across the country. country, ”said Summer Stephan of the San Diego County District. Lawyer. “The task force is sharing key information and actively working to connect these dots and reveal patterns that lead to successful prosecutions. We believe this will become a model for the rest of the nation on how to stop the billion dollar criminal industry of senior fraud. “
“The level of law enforcement cooperation and coordination in the San Diego area is unique and helps make all San Diego residents safer,” said El Cajon Police Chief Michael Moulton . I commend all investigators involved in this case for their tenacity and determination to help bring justice to these victims. The San Diego Elder Justice Task Force is a vital part of helping protect San Diego County seniors.
To date, six of the eight accused have been arrested. The defendants are accused of violating the racketeering law known as RICO, the federal law designed to fight organized crime. It is believed to be the first time that the RICO Act has been used in an elderly fraud case. The indictment alleges that this organization was involved in extortion, fraud and money laundering – all hallmarks of organized crime.
The investigation began in San Diego with one casualty and one small loss, and has grown exponentially to include casualties in El Cajon, Escondido, Carlsbad, Bonita, Santee, Coronado, and at least 15 states.
According to the indictment, the crooks contacted elderly victims, usually by phone, and posed as a grandchild or someone else close to the victim. The scammer claimed to have big legal problems because of an accident or an arrest. He said he needed money for bail, medical bills or legal fees.
The scheme involved several “actors” who played various roles using a well-rehearsed script. One would play the beloved parent; another would claim to be a lawyer; and still others pose as bail officers or medical professionals. They provided victims with fake case numbers and asked victims to lie to family, friends and bank officials about the reasons for withdrawing or transferring money.
The grandparents were so fearful and desperate to help that they handed over tens of thousands of dollars in huge acts of selflessness. Once the victim was on board, other members of the criminal enterprise were sent to the doorstep to collect money.
According to the indictment, the crooks took elaborate steps to conceal their true identities from victims and law enforcement. They used false names. They rented residences to receive money sent by mail and commercial carriers. They used rental cars or carpooling vehicles to collect funds from the victims. And once they received funds from the victims, the crooks quickly attempted to hide it by transferring the proceeds to other members of the criminal conspiracy, who converted the fiat currency into cryptocurrency.
According to court documents, one defendant collected $ 33,000 from three different victims in a single day. Messages from his phone reveal that he received the names and addresses of the victims and that he used a false name to collect money from the victims. In a text exchange with a co-conspirator, the accused asked: “What’s gon (sic) be my name”
According to the indictment, one of the victims lived in Oceanside. She was 87 years old. She is identified in the indictment as “JD”.
JD received a phone call on May 11, 2020, from a woman claiming to be his granddaughter. The appellant said she was arrested in a car accident and needed $ 9,000 for bail. She then handed the phone to her supposed attorney, who warned JD not to discuss it with anyone or risk violating a court gag order. A courier went to JD’s address and collected the money.
The next day a man claiming to be an accident specialist called JD and claimed that the other party in the vehicle collision had lost their baby as a result of the accident. If JD did not provide an additional $ 42,000, his granddaughter would be charged with first degree manslaughter and spend 15 to 20 years in prison. JD sent a wire transfer in the amount of $ 42,000 to an account associated with the defendants.
The crooks didn’t stop there.
About a week later, another con artist called JD and informed her that she and her granddaughter had violated the gag order. If JD didn’t pay an additional $ 57,000, his granddaughter would go to jail. JD sent another wire transfer in the amount of $ 57,000 to an account associated with the defendants.
“I know some victims may be reluctant to come forward because they feel embarrassed that they fell into this hoax trap,” Grossman said. “But I want to assure the victims that it is not your fault. You are one of the many people who have been deceived by a sophisticated criminal organization whose members concocted a number of plausible stories and conspired to They are unscrupulous manipulators preying on the elderly They are to blame, not you.
For those who might be contacted by crooks in the future, know that law enforcement is here to help. Please call your local law enforcement agency, sheriff, FBI, or 911 in case of an emergency.
Grossman praised prosecutors Sasha Johnson of the Southern District of California, Lauren Elfner and Wei Xiang of the Department of Justice’s consumer protection division, the Department of Justice’s international affairs office, as well as FBI agents for their excellent work on this matter. Grossman also acknowledged the excellent work of the district attorney’s office and the multiple local law enforcement agencies of the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force who have relentlessly investigated this case for justice. for elderly victims.
DEFENDANTS File number 21cr2216-CAB
Tracy Adrine Knowles 29 years old Orlando, Florida
Adonis Alexis Butler Wong 29 Pembroke Pines, Florida
Timothy Ingram, aka Bleezy 29 North Hollywood, California
In custody. Arrested in Los Angeles on August 10, 2021. The judge refused bail.
Anajah Gifford 23 North Hollywood, California
In custody. Arrested in Los Angeles on August 10, 2021. The judge refused bail.
Lyda Harris 73 Laveen, Arizona
Arrested in Albania under a provisional arrest warrant. The United States requests extradition.
Joaquin Lopez 45 Hollywood, Florida
Arrested in Hollywood, Florida, August 18, 2021. He will be released on bail.
Jack Owuor 24 Paramount, California
Arrested in Paramount, near Los Angeles, August 11, 2021. Judge refused bail.
Tracy Glinton 34 Orlando, Florida
Arrested in Orlando, Florida, August 17, 2021. She is released on bail.
SUMMARY OF EXPENSES
Title 18, USC, Sec. 1962 (d) – Conspiracy to manage or participate in a business
Through a racketeering activity model
Maximum penalty: twenty years in prison and a fine not exceeding double the amount of gain or loss associated with the offense or $ 250,000
General Directorate of Consumer Protection of the Ministry of Justice
San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, which includes:
San Diego FBI
San Diego County Attorney’s Office
San Diego Police Department
San Diego Sheriff’s Department
Carlsbad Police Department
Oceanside Police Department
Escondido Police Department
Chula Vista Police Department
El Cajon Police Department
La Mesa Police Department
National Town Police Department
Coronado Police Department
* Charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are only charges, and defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.