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Southern Illinois takes part in largest-ever nationwide elder fraud sweep

Posted by on Thursday, March 7th, 2019 @ 4:27 pm.

ILLINOIS - Attorney General William P. Barr and U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep. The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly.

The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts. In each case, offenders allegedly engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused alleged losses of millions of more dollars than last year, putting the total alleged losses at this year’s sweep at over $750 million.

“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But thanks to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, as well as our state and local partners, the Department of Justice is protecting our seniors from fraud. The Trump administration has placed a renewed focus on prosecuting those who prey on the elderly, and the results of today’s sweep make that clear. Today we are announcing the largest single law enforcement action against elder fraud in American history. This year’s sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, 28 percent more in losses, and twice the number of fraud victims as last year’s sweep. I want to thank the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which led this effort, together with the Department’s Criminal Division, the more than 50 U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and the state and local partners who helped to make these results possible. Together, we are bringing justice and peace of mind to America’s seniors.”

“Fraud is a multi-billion dollar problem that impacts banks, retailers, health care providers, industries, and individuals. Truly, none of us are beyond the reach of these thieves who constantly find new and innovative ways to lie, cheat, and steal,” said Steven D. Weinhoeft, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. Weinhoeft also noted that according to a 2018 FTC report, while Americans of all ages are susceptible to fraud schemes, people ages 80 and older reported the highest median losses – over twice the median loss amount reported by those under age 60.

Telemarketing fraud is a primary tool for those who target the elderly. For this reason, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois has made telemarketing fraud a top priority. The Southern District of Illinois is recognized as a national leader in telemarketing fraud prosecutions, particularly on schemes that victimize seniors. This year’s sweep included three Canadian citizens – Fawaz Sebai, 41, Vassilios Klouvatos, 34, and Lefkothea Klouvatos, 27 – charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the Southern District of Illinois. According to the indictment, Sebai and Vassilios Klouvatos owned and operated a telemarketing business located in Quebec, Canada. Lefkothea Klouvatos managed the call center for the business. The telemarketers employed by the business allegedly made unsolicited telephone calls to elderly victims in the United States. By making false statements and misrepresentations, the telemarketers convinced the U.S. victims to purchase supposed prescription drug discount cards. The fee for these products was typically $299. The Office of International Affairs sought extradition in 2015. Canada extradited Sebai to the United States on Sept. 19, 2018. Vassilios and Lefkothea Klouvatos were surrendered to the United States on Oct. 4, 2018. The trio pleaded guilty earlier this year and are set to be sentenced on March 26, 2019.

This year’s sweep also includes additional Southern Illinois prosecutions and convictions of defendants engaged in tech support scams. In May 2018, two former owners of a Florida-based company, Client Care Experts, LLC (formerly known as First Choice Tech Support, LLC), and a Costa Rican-based company, ABC Repair Tech, Ltd., were indicted by a federal grand jury in East St. Louis with criminal conspiracy and 13 counts of wire fraud. Michael Austin Seward, 31, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Kevin James McCormick, 45, of Delray Beach, Florida, were named in a superseding indictment charging them and their former vice president, Grant Clark Wasik, 35, of Boynton Beach, Florida, with running a fraudulent tech support scheme. The inbound call center they operated allegedly generated calls through pop-up messages that falsely claimed consumers had serious viruses or malware on their computers. According to the charging documents, telemarketers convinced consumers to grant remote access and ultimately used false representations and scare tactics to induce consumers to send money. In three years, the scheme allegedly brought in over $25 million, a large portion of which came from older Americans. At least 57 victims of the alleged scams were located in 22 counties within the Southern District of Illinois, with multiple victims in both St. Clair and Madison Counties.

Sixteen other defendants involved in the same fraudulent scheme have been prosecuted in the Southern District of Illinois, including three during the sweep. Michael Cary Lawing, 33, of Lincolnton, North Carolina, Kyle Evan Swinson, 27, of New Bern, North Carolina, and Erica Marie Crowell, 29, of Marlton, New Jersey, were recently charged in separate cases for their  involvement in the conspiracy. The cases against Seward, McCormick, and Crowell are scheduled for trial in the coming months. The other defendants have all entered guilty pleas.

Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. The Justice Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.

Fact sheets with more information on the Department’s tech support fraud cases, mass mailing fraud cases, and cases involving extradition in which the Office of International Affairs played a substantial role can be found here.

More information on the tech support fraud prosecutions being brought in the Southern District of Illinois is available here.


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