Eastern District of Louisiana Takes Part in Efforts to Protect Older Adults

Published 2:20 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2022

NEW ORLEANS – The Justice Department announced on October 4, 2022 the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the Department and its 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. Today, the Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating overseas.

 “We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorneys’ offices participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion 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.”

“Elder fraud schemes unfairly target elderly, disabled and other vulnerable consumers, ensnaring them into fraudulent ventures with wide reaching consequences and excessive losses, which have a profound effect on our community and nation.  With the continued cooperation from our investigative partners, we will hold the perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable for their crimes. Our office reminds seniors and their caregivers to be vigilant for fraudulent schemes and, if victimized, to contact law enforcement,” stated U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans.

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.  For example, the  EDLA prosecuted the following Elder Fraud matters:

Claudua Antillon Zahuita, age 38, and Sergio Leon Kuri, age 40, both residents and citizens of Mexico, were sentenced  to prison on September 29, 2021 after they each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  Zahuita received 48 months, while Kuri received 60 months.  As part of the elaborate scheme, the conspirators made unsolicited phone calls to owners of resort timeshare properties to induce them into paying fees associated with the bogus sale of their property. The defendants misrepresented the existence of a buyer for their timeshare and solicited money from the victims to facilitate the sale. They solicited the timeshare owners to enter into agreements to sell their timeshares and pay for alleged “closing costs” with electronic wire transfers from banking institutions within the United States to Mexican banks. There were no interested buyers, the closings did not occur, and the timeshares were not resold. Instead, the conspirators simply pocketed the advanced fees. Of the U.S. victims, 40 were age 60 and older and the total estimated loss is at least $20,000,000; and

Karen Farrell Tigler, of Harvey, Louisiana, pled guilty on May 11, 2022 to Bank Fraud and Making and Subscribing False Tax Returns.  According to court documents, Tigler was employed as banker with a local bank and used her position to embezzle approximately $349, 556 from and elderly client’s account.  Tigler faces a maximum term of thirty (30) years imprisonment and/or a fine of $1,000,000.00 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person of the offense; and

Acdane Campbell, age 25, a resident of Jamaica, was sentenced on May 26, 2022 to serve 10 months in prison after previously pleading guilty to a one count indictment for Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud.  According to court records, from in or around August 2016, Campbell, and others, conspired to obtain money unlawfully by falsely informing elderly victims that they had won a lottery, sweepstakes, or car. The unidentified co-conspirators telephoned   the victims, promising them that they would receive their winnings if they first paid taxes and fees.

As an additional part of the EDLA’s elder fraud initiative, it has conducted  outreach to both the community and  industry to raise awareness of the ever-present threats of exploitative scams and the  victimization they unleash. This year, our office also participated in Elder Justice presentations at local Retirement Communities that focused on the identification  and  prevention of financial, physical, and emotional crimes against senior populations.

The Department also highlighted three other efforts: expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams.

The Department announced that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice it is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.

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 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 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.

Over the past year, the Department pursued 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 either a grandchild, 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. When recently 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 Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes.

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.[ET]. 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.