DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and United States Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York today announced that 21 citizens of the Dominican Republic have been charged with conspiring to impersonate United States law enforcement officers, extortion, and wire fraud. Beginning two weeks ago, authorities in the Dominican Republic, acting on requests from the United States, located and arrested 17 of the defendants in the Dominican Republic, who are now awaiting extradition proceedings in that country. Four defendants remain at-large.
The defendants are alleged to have engaged in a scheme to extort money from individuals located in the United States by posing as DEA Agents or other representatives of the United States Government. The defendants targeted individuals who they believed had illicitly purchased prescription pharmaceuticals through call centers located in the Dominican Republic. As part of the defendants’ scheme, a member of the conspiracy would call a victim located in the United States and identify himself or herself as a DEA agent or representative of another United States agency. The victim would then be told that he or she was under investigation for illegally purchasing prescription drugs, and that the only way to avoid arrest and jail would be to pay a “fine” or some other fee to the DEA. In total, the defendants and others who participated in this scheme and copy-cat schemes demanded at least $3.5 million, and received at least $880,000, in extortionate payments from victims in the United States.
“These alleged criminals not only bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting Americans but they also called into question the integrity and honor of the DEA and all law enforcement,” Administrator Leonhart said. The DEA, with the assistance of our Dominican Republic counterparts, have worked diligently to identify, target and, ultimately, dismantle this group of alleged scam artists. We urge anyone who receives a similar threatening phone call to hang up and contact local or federal law enforcement immediately.”
United States Attorney Bharara said: “These defendants generated untold millions of dollars in illicit profits by posing as DEA Agents or other U.S. law enforcement officers. They carried out the internet or telephone equivalent of displaying phony badges to rip off their victims. In the process, the defendants assaulted the good name of the DEA. We commend the DEA for putting a stop to this criminal charade.”
According to the Indictment, which was unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
From at least 2008, up to and including March 2013, JULIO SANTANA JOSEPH, FRANCISCO RUBIO MONTALVO, ANGEL PEREZ AVILES, a/k/a “Mike,” DEIVY BURGOS FELIX, CHENGY PADILLA GARO, GEURY GUZMAN ROSA, DANTE CAMINERO VASQUEZ, SAUL HERNANDEZ BATISTA, MOISES DE LA CRUZ DECENA, CELSO MIGUEL SARITA, EDWARD CUEVAS ESCANO, SANTIAGO GUZMAN GONZALEZ, JOSE ARISMENDY CUESTA ABREU, CARLOS PERDOMO ROSARIO, a/k/a “El Depo,” ELINSON REYES ALMONTE, YEURY AMARANTE ROSARIO, MARIO ANTONIO PLACIDO, YGNACIO ESTEVEZ MESSON, BORIS GIL GUERRERO, VICTOR VELASQUEZ ROCHTTIS, a/k/a “Vitico,” and RAFAELA MEDINA, a/k/a “Carolina,” the defendants, and others known and unknown, engaged in a scheme to extort money from individuals located in the United States by posing as DEA Agents or other representatives of the United States Government (the “Impersonation and Extortion Scheme”). Each of the defendants made extortionate calls and/or received money from victims who had been extorted. The Impersonation and Extortion Scheme targeted individuals who the defendants believed had purchased prescription drugs unlawfully over the internet or through call centers. The illicit websites and call centers at issue sold pills to customers that would typically require a doctor’s prescription to purchase. The illicit websites and call centers did not require consumers to obtain the required prescriptions before purchase (hereinafter, the pills sold in this manner are referred to as the “Prescription Drugs”).
The DEA Impersonation and Extortion Scheme typically operated as follows: First, certain of the defendants and other individuals not named as defendants who engaged in the Impersonation and Extortion Scheme (the “Extorters”) purchased, or otherwise obtained, lists of individuals who the Extorters believed had previously purchased Prescription Drugs over the internet on illicit websites or through illicit call centers located in the Dominican Republic (“Customer Lists”). The Customer Lists generally contained the names, addresses, credit card numbers and other information for individuals located in the United States.
Second, an Extorter contacted a customer from the Customer Lists (the “victim”) and identified him- or herself as a DEA agent or representative of another United States agency. Often, the Extorter provided the name of an actual DEA supervisor from a DEA office located in the United States. The Extorters attempted to extort money from victims throughout the United States, including victims in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York.
During a call with a victim, an Extorter falsely informed the victim that authorities in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere were investigating or criminally charging the victim as a result of his or her illegal purchase of Prescription Drugs that were sent to the victim from the Dominican Republic. In a single call or series of calls and emails, the Extorter detailed the purported criminal charges and potential penalties facing the victim, including imprisonment, and the likelihood that the victim would be arrested and extradited to a foreign country for prosecution.
During a call with the victim, an Extorter also generally informed the victim that he or she could dispose of, or avoid, the criminal charges by making a cash payment. In order to do so, the Extorter had the victim transfer between several hundred and several thousand dollars either (i) through a money remitting service to a particular individual in the Dominican Republic, or (ii) via wire transfer to a particular bank account located in the Dominican Republic.
Following receipt of a payment from a victim, an Extorter typically contacted the victim again. During the follow-up conversations, the Extorter demanded additional payments and threatened to have criminal charges re-filed against the victim. If the victim refused to make, or to continue to make, extortion payments to the Extorter, the Extorter threatened the victim with his or her imminent arrest, with searches of the victim’s home in the United States by federal law enforcement officers, or with public disclosure of the victim’s prior purchases of Prescription Drugs.