(STL.News) – U.S. Attorney David J. Freed joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2020. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Department will aggressively prosecute fraudsters exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fake help obtaining stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program Funds. On this day dedicated to recognizing our seniors, the Department of Justice sends a strong message that we continue the fight to keep seniors safe a top priority.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important this year than perhaps ever before to bring awareness to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation,” said U.S. Attorney Freed. “As lockdowns and social distancing have limited interaction between people, this crisis has created numerous opportunities for scammers to prey on our most vulnerable citizens. While the scams may have different names and use different methods, the goal remains the same: to separate law abiding citizens from their money. In the Middle District of Pennsylvania we are proud to prioritize and prosecute elder fraud cases of all types. I urge everyone to report these scams so that we can take down these brazen criminals.”
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities.
Major strides have already been made to that end:
- National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11 Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate services.
- Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.
- Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors, including two cases in the Middle District. One being:
- Omoefe Okoro, age 48, a citizen of Canada, was charged in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Okoro and others are alleged to have engaged in an attorney “collection scam” in Ontario, Canada, and elsewhere. In particular, Okoro and his co-conspirators are alleged to have conducted a scheme in which they contacted businesses and individuals, including elderly victims, and requested, among other things, to collect an outstanding debt. The suspects, posing as the third party, then sent a counterfeit check to the victim for deposit and requested that the victim wire funds to an account overseas, typically in Japan, South Korea, or China. Canada surrendered Okoro to the United States on Aug. 29, 2018. Okoro is currently scheduled for trial on August 3, 2020
- Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year. The Middle District disrupted such a case in June 2019:
- Anthony W. Redd, age 63, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was charged in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. It is alleged that Redd was a “Money Mule” and participated in a scheme to defraud individuals out of money by making them believe they were eligible for cash and other prizes. As part of the scheme, Redd is alleged to have caused the mailing of legitimate postal money orders from Mechanicsburg to his address in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and to have converted the known proceeds of the scheme to cash or to have sent the proceeds through Western Union or MoneyGram to Costa Rica. Redd is currently scheduled to plead guilty on July 1, 2020.
- Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting our elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams. One such case that the Middle District recently prosecuted was:
- Jenmariey Burchell, a 26-year-old Jamaican citizen for her part in a scheme to defraud senior citizens that were falsely told they had won multi-million dollar international sweepstakes prizes. The purported winners were directed to send Western Union and MoneyGram money transfers, money orders and checks to persons known as “money mules,” ostensibly to pre-pay taxes and other fictitious expenses, in order to collect the non-existent cash prizes. Burchell enlisted the “money mules” to receive and transfer the fraud proceeds to him and other conspirators in Jamaica. Burchell ultimately received a sentence of 51 months’ imprisonment on November 12, 2019