U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona Joins Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to Protect Older Adults

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona announced today that, as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and to bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice, it is joining the Justice Department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, as one of 14 additional U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Since 2019, current Strike Force members — including the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Homeland Security Investigations — have brought successful cases against the largest and most harmful global elder fraud schemes and worked with foreign law enforcement to disrupt criminal enterprises, disable their infrastructure and bring perpetrators to justice. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat sophisticated fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults. The expansion will increase the total number of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices comprising the Strike Force from six to 20, including all of the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the states of California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and New York.

“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.”

“I am pleased to announce the District of Arizona’s selection as one of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force Districts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is dedicated to bringing those who defraud the elderly to justice, whether they commit such crimes in the United States or from abroad,” said Gary Restaino, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

The Strike Force expansion will further enhance the Department’s existing efforts to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. 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. The matters tackled by the Department and its partners ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts also were made over the last year to return money to fraud victims.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, along with its federal partners, successfully prosecuted various cases involving scams targeting the elderly. Notable examples are as follows:

United States v. Joseph Batts et al., CR-18-2216-TUC-RCC – David McIntosh was sentenced to 160 months in prison and ordered to pay approximately $1.8 million in restitution. McIntosh was a leader in an international lottery fraud ring that targeted thousands of elderly victims around the United States. McIntosh’s co-defendant, Joseph Batts, received a sentence of 70 months in prison for his role as a “lead list” distributor. In the related case of United States v. Sheldon Hibbert, CR-19-1973-TUC-SHR, Mr. Hibbert received a sentence of 48 months in prison for his role in laundering portions of the fraudulent proceeds. The District of Arizona has also sought the extradition of co-defendant Ferlando McCoon from Jamaica. Mr. McCoon is currently challenging his extradition to the United States.

United States v. Onovughe Ighorhiohwunu, CR-21-1119-TUC-SHR – Onovughe Ighorhiohwunu was found guilty by a jury for his role as a money launderer in an international romance fraud scheme targeting vulnerable and elderly victims. Ighorhiohwunu received 130 months in prison and was ordered to pay approximately $1.3 million in restitution.

United States v. Koreasa M. Williams, CR-19-1276-TUC-JGZ – Koreasa M. Williams, formerly a licensed insurance agent, embezzled money from elderly insurance clients. Williams was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $330,923 in restitution. In a related case, CR-21-3136-TUC-JGZ, Williams defrauded a separate elderly victim by embezzling over $1.3 million. Williams was sentenced to 136 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

United States v. Michael Tagle Santos et al., CR-20-2707-TUC-JGZ – Michael Tagle Santos and Cherry Mae De Los Reyes Santos, husband and wife, were caretakers of an elderly disabled victim. The couple embezzled money from the victim and used the funds for personal expenses. Mr. Santos received 33 months in prison. Mrs. Santos was sentenced to 16 months in prison. The couple was also ordered to pay $362,266 in restitution.

United States v. Jacoby, CR-21-452-PHX-JJT – Michael Jacoby defrauded an elderly widower out of his retirement savings (approximately $1 million) by offering investment management services, but instead taking the money for himself. Jacoby pleaded guilty and is pending sentencing.

United States v. Mehaffey, CR-20-626-PHX-DWL – Brannen Mehaffey operated a money service business exchanging cash for bitcoin. He was charged after the IRS conducted a sting operation where Mehaffey exchanged cash for bitcoin despite believing the cash came from drug sales. Most of Mehaffey’s actual business arose from fraud: perpetrators of schemes, such as romance scams, would direct their victims to send cash or deposit money into Mehaffey’s accounts, and Mehaffey would in turn send bitcoin to the people running the schemes. Mehaffey was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay a total of $562,000 in restitution to a number of elderly victims.

As part of the District of Arizona’s elder fraud efforts in addition to prosecution, it engages in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. On September 29, 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with its federal partners, the IRS Criminal Investigation and United States Postal Inspection Service, conducted an outreach event entitled “Protect Yourself and Your Money” hosted by the Pima Council on Aging. This event took place at The Katie Dusenberry Healthy Aging Center in Tucson, Arizona. On October 3, 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Secret Service conducted a similar event at the Handmaker Assisted Living Center in Tucson, Arizona. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to provide similar events with its federal partners in the future.

The Department also highlighted national efforts in returning money to victims. In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for 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. 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 as a result 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.

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 through 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 professionals 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.

RELEASE NUMBER:    2022-169_Elder Justice Release

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For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/az/