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  HOME | Central America

U.S. Indicts 3 in Costa Rica Sweepstakes Scam
Two Individuals Charged, Third Pleads Guilty

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA -- A California woman pleaded guilty today for her role in a half-million-dollar “sweepstakes fraud” scheme that was run from Costa Rica and targeted U.S. residents. A Costa Rican national and an Ohio resident were also indicted for their roles in separate but similar schemes earlier this week.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of the Western District of North Carolina made the announcement.

Patricia Diane Clark, 56, of Sacramento, California, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer of the Western District of North Carolina to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, all in connection with a Costa Rican telemarketing fraud scheme that targeted U.S. residents.

According to Clark’s plea agreement, from approximately 2007 through February 2013, her co-conspirators called U.S. residents from Costa Rican call centers, falsely informing them that they had won a substantial cash prize in a “sweepstakes.” The victims, many of whom were elderly, were told that in order to receive the prize, they had to send money for a purported “refundable insurance fee.” Clark admitted that she picked up money from the victims and sent it to her co-conspirators in Costa Rica. Clark also admitted that she managed others who picked up money from the victims in the United States and that she kept a portion of the victims’ payments.

Also according to Clark’s plea agreement, once the victims sent money, Clark’s co-conspirators contacted the individuals again and falsely informed them that the prize amount had increased, either because of a clerical error or because another prize winner was disqualified. The victims then had to send additional money to pay for new purported fees to receive the now larger sweepstakes prize. The attempts to collect additional money from the victims continued until an individual either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme.

Clark admitted that, along with her co-conspirators, she was responsible for approximately $640,000 in losses to hundreds of U.S. citizens.

Additionally, earlier this week, Marco Vinicio Fallas Hernandez, 41, a Costa Rican citizen, was charged in a superseding indictment in the Western District of North Carolina with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, ten counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and nine counts of international money laundering in connection with a similar telemarketing scheme. According to the indictment, Hernandez and his co-conspirators were responsible for causing approximately $10,000,000 in losses to hundreds of U.S. citizens, many of whom are elderly. Eight individuals, including Hernandez, are charged in the superseding indictment.

Separately, Paul Ronald Toth Jrj., 38, a resident of Bloomingdale, Ohio, was indicted in the Western District of North Carolina this week on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and six counts of international money laundering. According to the indictment, between November 2009 and November 2010, Toth and others he supervised received money from victims of a Costa Rican telemarketing scheme. Toth allegedly kept some of the proceeds and wired the remainder to Costa Rica using numerous persons as senders and recipients, all in a manner designed to conceal and disguise the fraudulent source and nature of the transactions. Toth is alleged to have received more than $300,000 of illegal proceeds during the scheme.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

These cases were investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Homeland Security. These cases are being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Donley and Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Anna Kaminska of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

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