Two individuals from Costa Rica were sentenced to 25 and 20 years in prison this Tuesday, April 30, for their roles in a $10 million telemarketing scheme that defrauded primarily elderly victims in the United States from call centers in Costa Rica.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray of the Western District of North Carolina, Inspector in Charge David M. McGinnis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Charlotte Divison, Acting Special Agent in Charge William Cheung of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s (CI) Cincinnati Field Office and Special Agent in Charge John Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office made the announcement.
Andrew Smith, 46, and Christopher Lee Griffin, 45, both of San Jose, Costa Rica, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad of the Western District of North Carolina to 25 years and 20 years in prison, respectively. Judge Conrad also ordered Smith to pay $10,222,838.76 in restitution to be paid jointly and severally with his co-conspirators and forfeit $406,324.96. Griffin was ordered to pay $9,612,590.39 in restitution to be paid jointly and severally with his co-conspirators and forfeit $182,439. Following a three-day jury trial in February 2018, Smith and Griffin were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and seven counts of international money laundering.
“Andrew Smith and Christopher Lee Griffin participated in a deplorable scam to defraud hard-working elderly Americans out of millions of dollars,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The severe sentences imposed today represent a significant victory in our continuing efforts to fight elder fraud and protect some of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public. These sentences should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone seeking to enrich themselves by taking part in similar scams.”
“Smith and Griffin used shameless tricks and brazen lies to convince victims their dream of financial security had come true. That dream soon turned into a devastating nightmare, one that took a financial and emotional toll on the victims, many of whom were elderly,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “The depravity of this scheme is reflected in the sentence handed down to these two criminals, for it takes a special kind of wickedness to steal from the elderly. Today’s sentence also underscores our commitment to stopping financial scams and holding offenders accountable for their actions, no matter where they are.”
According to evidence presented at trial, both Smith and Griffin worked in a call center in Costa Rica in which conspirators, who posed as representatives of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), contacted victims in the United States to tell them that that they had won a substantial “sweepstakes” prize. After convincing victims, many of whom were elderly, that they stood to receive a significant financial reward, the conspirators told victims that they needed to make a series of up-front payments before collecting their supposed prize, purportedly for items like insurance fees, taxes and import fees. Conspirators used a variety of means to conceal their true identities, such as Voice over Internet Protocols, which made it appear that they were calling from Washington, D.C., and other places in the United States. According to trial testimony, one elderly victim who indicated she was going to stop paying was warned by a conspirator that they knew where she and her family lived.
Smith and Griffin arranged for victims to transmit payments through international wire transfers directly to Costa Rica or through “runners,” who collected money from victims in the United States and forwarded payment to Smith, Griffin and others in Costa Rica, according to evidence presented at trial. Runners dispatched by Smith and his co-conspirators met elderly victims at their homes to collect bags of cash, which they in turn remitted to Costa Rica, the evidence showed.
Smith, Griffin and their conspirators stole more than $10 million from victims, the evidence showed.