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Seven charged in telemarketing sweepstakes scheme

U.S. citizens were charged in an indictment unsealed this week for their roles in a Costa Rica-based telemarketing scheme that allegedly defrauded victims in the United States, including the elderly, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

“According to the allegations in the indictment unsealed today, Roger Roger and his co-defendants ran a telemarketing call center in Costa Rica that duped victims—including senior citizens—into sending money to claim bogus ‘sweepstakes prizes,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said in a statement.

“This indictment further demonstrates that the investigation and prosecution of individuals who victimize seniors and other vulnerable populations are among the highest priorities for the Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners,” Benczkowski said.

The announcement was made Tuesday.

“Scamming elderly people out of their life’s savings is deplorable,” said U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray of the Western District of North Carolina. “Most older Americans live on a fixed income, so when scammers come along and steal these elderly victims’ limited financial resources, our mission is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Roger Roger, 34, previously of Hialeah, Florida and currently residing in Costa Rica; Paul Andy Stiep, 26, of Miami, Florida; Manuel Mauro Chavez, 27, also of Miami; David Michael Nigh, 49, previously of Oklahoma and currently residing in Costa Rica; Mark Raymond Oman, 33, of Long Beach, Washington; Cole Anthony Parks, 33, of Pompano Beach, Florida; and Nicholas Richer, 24, of Nashua, New Hampshire, were charged in a 20-count indictment filed in the Western District of North Carolina with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and nine counts of international money laundering.

The indictment alleges that the defendants worked for a telemarketing sweepstakes call center located in Costa Rica, which was supervised by Roger.

Telemarketers in the call center, including Roger, Parks, Nigh and other co-conspirators, allegedly called intended victims in the United States – including elderly persons – convincing them that they had won a substantial sweepstakes prize, but, to claim the prize, they needed to send funds, such as insurance or customs fees or taxes, the Justice Department said.

If a victim sent money, telemarketers called back seeking more money, telling the victims that there was a clerical error, or the prize had increased due to the disqualification of the grand prize winner, requiring payment of additional insurance, fees, taxes and customs duties, the indictment alleges.

Victims sent the funds either directly to Costa Rica, where they were retrieved by co-conspirators, including Oman and Parks, or, for victims reluctant to send money to Costa Rica, to co-conspirators in the United States, including Stiep, Chavez and Richer, who, for a portion of the victim proceeds, retrieved the funds and forwarded them to Costa Rica.

The promised sweepstakes prize did not exist, and the defendants and their co-conspirators kept the victims’ money to fund the call center operations and for their personal benefit, the indictment alleges.

The named defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly used a variety of techniques to conceal their identities and perpetrate the fraud, including use of “phone names” (i.e., aliases) when communicating with victims and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to make it appear that they were calling from Washington, D.C. or other places in the United States, the Justice Department said.

They also allegedly often misrepresented that they were government agents or representatives, including from the IRS, Treasury Department or Federal Trade Commission.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, IRS Criminal Investigation and the FBI, with assistance from the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Interpol and the Department’s international partners in Costa Rica.

The case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys William Bowne and Jennifer Farer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina provided substantial assistance with this matter.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, the Justice Department said.

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