INDIANAPOLIS – Zachary A. Myers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, and the U.S. Department of Justice, announced the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from financial fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Department, and their law enforcement partners tackled matters that ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts were also made over the last year to return money to fraud victims.
“We will continue to prioritize prosecution of fraudsters who prey upon the finances of older adults,” said U.S. Attorney Myers. “These despicable scams often exploit the trust and love of our seniors and deprive them of their hard-earned savings and security. We will work to hold those who commit these crimes accountable and to return ill-gotten gains to victims of fraud.”
“We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion of our efforts builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”
During the period from September 2021 to September 2022, Department personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.
Over the past year, the Department pursued numerous cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scams.” These scams typically begin when a fraudster, often based overseas, contacts an older adult and poses as a grandchild or other family member, or someone calling on behalf of a family member. Call recipients are told that their family member is in jeopardy and is urgently in need of money. At the recent sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal judge described such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes.
For example, in 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana prosecuted Edwin Agbi, of Indiana, for defrauding senior victims as part of a broad, international scheme. Agbi worked with an international group of scammers to create fake profiles on OurTime, an online dating service designed for adults over 50. The scammers were able to deceive several senior victims, making them believe that they were in genuine romantic relationships with the fake personas. Eventually, the scammers asked the victims for money, explaining that they needed funds for various reasons, including taxes and travel expenses. The victims sometimes sent the requested money. Agbi received money from the victims and passed it along to his co-conspirators.
Agbi was charged with various federal fraud and money laundering offenses. On March 2, 2022, he was found guilty following a three-day federal jury trial. On August 25, 2022, he was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $95,500 in restitution to his victims. Agbi was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Miller and MaryAnn T. Mindrum.
Also in 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana prosecuted five people who organized a nation-wide “Grandparent Scam.” From at least April 2020 and continuing through January 2021, Jasaun Pope, Darlens Renard, Princess Elizer, Jennifer Glemeau, and Kareem Brown exploited the elderly and their relationships with their relatives for personal financial gain. This sophisticated criminal network, through extortion and fraud, induced elderly Americans across the United States to pay tens of thousands of dollars to help their grandchild or other close family relative in a “Grandparent Scam.”
Unidentified members of the conspiracy made scam telephone calls to elderly victims in Indiana and nationwide claiming that their grandchild or other relative had an urgent legal or medical problem and needed money immediately. The caller, who often claimed to be an attorney, police officer, or other authority figure, told the victims to send an overnight delivery of cash to help the purported relative in need—typically between $5,000 and $15,000—to a delivery address used by the conspiracy. Once they received the money, the conspirators divided the criminal proceeds amongst themselves.
All five members of the conspiracy have signed agreements to plead guilty for their roles in the offense. On August 23, 2022, Jasaun Pope was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $554,574.02 in restitution to the victims. The four other members of the conspiracy are awaiting sentencing. This fraud conspiracy is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys MaryAnn T. Mindrum and Nicholas J. Linder.
The Department of Justice also highlighted its successes in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams. In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission payments. Notifications were made to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the Department and were later victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return for a fee. More than 160,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $62 million, and thousands more are eligible to receive checks. Also notified were consumers who paid fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. In the past year, the Department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March of 2020 more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million because of a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its aiding and abetting of wire fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana has also been committed to taking assets from criminals and returning them to victims. Thus far in 2022, the office’s Asset Recovery Unit has divested criminals of $732,609 worth of assets that are the fruits of their crimes. The office has collected $2,631.606 in criminal debts, including restitution owed to victims and fines owed to the court, and $1,950,427 in civil debts recovered for victims of crime and the United States.
Reporting from consumers about fraud and fraud attempts is critical to law enforcements efforts to investigate and prosecute schemes targeting older adults. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professional who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting or connect them with agencies, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. English, Spanish and other languages are available. More information about the Department’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.
Some of the cases that comprise today’s announcement are charges, which are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.