Louisiana woman guilty in $4.8 Million elder fraud scheme

Published 9:02 am Thursday, March 25, 2021

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TYLER, Texas — A Shreveport, Louisiana woman has pleaded guilty for her role in an elder fraud scheme in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.

Monica Ruiz, 45, pleaded guilty to wire fraud today before U.S. Magistrate Judge John D. Love.

“Schemes that target elderly victims are particularly troubling,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.  “Ruiz manipulated a vulnerable victim, exploited his trust, and stole much of his hard-earned life savings.  Protecting senior citizens from exploitation has been, and will remain, a priority in the Eastern District.”

According to information presented in court, Ruiz enlisted a variety of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises in a scheme to defraud an elderly victim from Bullard, Texas.  Among the various misrepresentations Ruiz made in order to obtain money from the victim were the following:

– That Ruiz had been in a coma;

– That Ruiz had brain surgery;

– That Ruiz was falsely arrested and imprisoned;

– That Ruiz had bribed a judge and prosecutor;

– That Ruiz’s son died in a car accident in Pennsylvania;

– That Ruiz was in a car accident;

– That Ruiz had a kidney transplant;

– That Ruiz’s daughter was committed to a mental institution;

– That Ruiz was incarcerated; and

– That Ruiz’s grandmother died.

At times, Ruiz impersonated other people in communications with the victim.  At other times, she created and used false personas in communications with the victim.  Over the course of her scheme, Ruiz obtained more than $4.85 million from the victim.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Ruiz with federal violations on Nov. 19, 2020.  Under federal statutes, Ruiz faces up to 20 years in federal prison.  The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.  A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

In October 2017, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) was signed into law.  The EAPPA’s purpose is to increase the federal government’s focus on preventing elder abuse and exploitation.  Subsequently, the Department of Justice launched the Elder Justice Initiative (EJI).  Through the EJI, the Department has participated in hundreds of criminal and civil enforcement actions involving misconduct that targeted vulnerable seniors.  In March of last year, the Department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide sweep.  The Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country.  The EJI website contains useful information, including educational resources about prevalent financial scams so you can guard against them.

In August of 2020, the Eastern District of Texas announced its own initiative, in partnership with law enforcement and private financial institutions, to identify and prosecute transnational elder fraud.  This EDTX initiative is designed to combat these criminal organization, both foreign and domestic, as well their networks of associates and money mules who launder the stolen funds.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.  The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service with the assistance of the Tyler Police Department and the Louisiana State Police – Gaming Enforcement Division and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel C. Kummerfeld.