ANSONIA, CT — A 28-year-old Ansonia man, who federal prosecutors referred to as a “money mule” in the scheme, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for his part in lottery and romance money scams, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Leonard C. Boyle.
Montrell Dobbs, Jr., was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in connection with the scheme, in which Dobbs was accused of being involved in defrauding primarily elderly victims across the country of millions of dollars.
For his part, Dobbs was accused of being a “money mule,” in which he retrieved “fraudulently obtained cash, checks and money orders that were sent through the mail to various addresses in New Haven, Hamden and Ansonia,” according to prosecutors.
Dobbs was arrested in March 2020, and in December, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
While these fraud schemes are believed to have bilked victims out of more than $5 million across the country, Dobbs was accused of being involved in scams that swindled victims out of $85,000.
“Many of the victims were elderly and vulnerable, and some victims lost their life savings,” prosecutors said, adding that more than 200 victims nationally were scammed by the schemes, including a Connecticut victim who lost $1 million.
According to court documents and statements, in the lottery scams, scammers notify victims by telephone, through online communications, or by mail, that they have won the lottery.
“The victims are then told that in order to collect the prize they must pay fees for things like taxes, shipping and processing,” prosecutors said. “Often, once a victim sends a small amount of money, a scammer will ask for larger sums of money with a promise of more winnings. The victims never receive winnings.”
In a romance scam, scammers “take advantage of people looking for companionship by pretending to be prospective companions.”
“[The] scammers typically create fake online profiles on dating websites that include false personal details such as the death of a spouse, or military service, to lure victims to trust them,” prosecutors said. “Once they have gained the trust of victims, scammers will ask victims for money, falsely claiming to need money for medical or business emergencies, for travel to see the victim, or other purposes.”
Dobbs was a money mule for individuals who were operating lottery and romance scams between approximately August 2015 and March 2020. Including the checks, cash and money orders, Dobbs also retrieved funds that were wired through electronic money transfers.
“Also, using the alias ‘Derek Williams,’ Dobbs retrieved from the Ansonia Post Office packages containing fraudulently obtained cash and checks,” prosecutors said. “Dobbs deposited checks and money orders into his own bank account, kept a portion of the funds, and passed along the remaining money to other co-conspirators, either by mailing cash or depositing money into other bank accounts.”
The scams Dobbs was involved in bilked at least 25 victims; in addition to the prison sentence, Judge Underhill also ordered Dobbs to pay full restitution.
Dobbs, who is released on a $100,000 bond, is required to report to prison on June 2.
Four of his alleged co-conspirators are awaiting trial.
This matter is being investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Army-CID, and New Haven Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather L. Cherry.
The Justice Department has established a National Elder Fraud Hotline to provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. The Hotline is staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers. Case managers assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed. When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller. The Hotline’s toll free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).