LAWFUEL – Legal Announcements – Ring Targeted Elderly Victims who Lost at least $1 Million in Canada, U.S.
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury has returned a 25-count indictment that accuses nearly two dozen people of participating in a Canadian-based telemarketing fraud scheme that targeted elderly victims with promises of large cash prizes.
The scheme was coordinated by John Bellini, also known as “Pizza Man,” who is quoted in the indictment as calling one of his telemarketers “funny” when the telemarketer laughed about one victim whom he characterized as having “the worst case of Alzheimer’s I’ve ever seen in my life.”
According to the 25-count indictment, members of the fraud ring contacted victims, the majority of whom were elderly, and falsely informed them that they had won large sums of money in a lottery or sweepstakes. The telemarketers allegedly told the victims that they would have to pay various fees or taxes – and in at least once case, money to rent an armored car that would be used to deliver sweepstakes winnings – to obtain their winnings. However, the indictment charges, none of the victims had won any money or would receive any money from the telemarketing organization. All of the money sent by victims to pay for the alleged fees was used by the various defendants for their own enjoyment.
“This indictment is the result of international cooperation between U.S. and Canadian law enforcement authorities on the Project Colt Task Force in Montreal, which focuses on cross-border fraud,” said Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “These charges should send a message to would-be scam artists who target vulnerable elderly citizens and others in the U.S. and Canada: the border does not provide sanctuary from U.S. law. This should also serve as a reminder to anyone who receives solicitations by mail, e-mail or phone to be skeptical when asked to send money in order to receive lottery or sweepstakes winnings.”
Bellini is accused of being the organizer and leader of the telemarketing organization, and he is alleged to have been responsible for obtaining the equipment and facilities necessary for the organization’s operation, obtaining “leads” for his telemarketers, obtaining and providing cellular telephones, arranging for the training of new members of the organization, bringing telemarketers together to pitch victims, providing for the collection of money sent by the victims, converting the checks obtained as a result of the organization’s fraudulent activities into Canadian dollars and distributing those funds to himself and other members of the organization.
Other members of the organization made the actual phone calls to victims. Five of the defendants allegedly operated money transfer stores, specifically Western Union and MoneyGram, where some victims were instructed to wire money. With the contacts at the money transfer outlets, members of the organization could shield their identities by having the victims wire money to aliases, such as “Glen Ross.”
The indictment alleges one count of conspiracy, two counts of mail fraud and 22 counts of wire fraud. The fraud charges carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. All of the charges include allegations that the defendants targeted elderly people, an enhancement that add an additional potential penalty of 10 years.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
All of the defendants are in Canada. Twenty of the 22 defendants named in the United States indictment were arrested in late 2006 by Canadian authorities.