Costa Rica Scams – Sometimes scammers in Costa Rica do not get away with it.
Nicholas Richer, a 24-year-old Nashua resident, was identified Tuesday by federal authorities as one of seven men from the U.S. and Costa Rica named in a sweeping, 20-count federal indictment accusing them of conducting an elaborate telemarketing scheme to defraud the public, particularly the elderly.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina R. Andrew Murray said the indictments are contained in documents unsealed Tuesday after a lengthy investigation into the alleged scheme, which authorities estimate began in January 2014 and ran through November 2017.
Richer, whose street address wasn’t provided, allegedly operated as a so-called “runner,” meaning his role was to accept funds from victims who weren’t willing to send the money to addresses outside the U.S., according to the indictments.
Richer was one of three alleged runners. The others are identified as Paul Andy Stiep, 26, and Manuel Mauro Chaves, 27, both of Miami.
Also named in the indictments are Roger Roger, 34, formerly of Hialeah, Florida, and currently living in Costa Rica; David Michael Nigh, 49, formerly of Oklahoma and also currently living in Costa Rica; Mark Raymond Oman, 33, of Long Beach, Washington; and Cole Anthony Parks, 33, of Pompano Beach, Florida.
Each defendant is facing nine counts of wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud; nine counts of international money laundering; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the indictments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Brian Benczkowski indicated in a statement that the defendant named Roger Roger supervised the telemarketing operation located in Costa Rica.
Benczkowski said Roger “and his co-defendants (allegedly) ran a telemarketing call center in Costa Rica that duped victims – including senior citizens – into sending money to claim bogus ‘sweepstakes prizes.’”
Benczkowski said Roger and other defendants who operated the call centers in Costa Rica changed their locations frequently, allegedly “to avoid detection and investigation” by authorities.
Meanwhile, those whose role was to place the calls to potential victims often used made-up “phone names” and communicated via voice through internet protocol “to make it appear they were calling from Washington, D.C.,” or other easily-recognizable U.S. cities, officials said.
Often, callers allegedly “misrepresented themselves,” telling the victims they were government agents from the IRS, U.S. Treasury Department or the Federal Trade Commission, according to the indictments.
The callers’ task was to convince the alleged victim he or she had won a substantial sweepstakes prize, but in order to claim the prize, he or she needed to send funds to cover such things as insurance, customs fees or taxes.
If a victim sent money, telemarketers called back seeking more money, telling the victims that there was a clerical error, or the prize had increased due to the disqualification of the grand prize winner, requiring payment of additional insurance, fees, taxes and customs duties, the indictment alleges.
Victims sent the funds either directly to Costa Rica, where they were retrieved by alleged co-conspirators. If the victims were unwilling to send funds outside the U.S., they would be referred to the “runners,” which allegedly included Richer, the Nashua resident.
Once they received the funds, the runners would “retain a portion as their cut, and forward the remainder” to the “illegal sweepstakes call center in Costa Rica,” the indictments state.
Benczkowsk said the sweeping, comprehensive investigation of the scheme demonstrates law enforcement’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting “individuals who victimize seniors and other vulnerable (people).”
Murray, the acting U.S. Attorney for North Carolina, concurred. “Scamming elderly people out of their life’s savings is deplorable,” he said.
“Most older Americans live on a fixed income, so when scammers come along and steal these elderly victims’ limited financial resources, our mission is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Collaborating on the investigation were representatives of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Interpol and its international partners in Costa Rica.
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, or, [email protected] or @Telegraph_DeanS.