(Office of David. C. Joseph) – On Friday, U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“Despite the care and respect that most of us give to our elders, there are some in our society that intentionally target and seek to exploit the elderly with false promises and fraudulent schemes” said U.S. Attorney Joseph. “My office will continue working with our law enforcement partners to bring these fraudsters to justice and protect the elderly.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Department will aggressively prosecute fraudsters exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fake help obtaining stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program Funds. On this day dedicated to recognizing our seniors, the Department of Justice sends a strong message that we continue the fight to keep seniors safe a top priority.
A recent example in the Western District of Louisiana involved a multimillion-dollar investment scheme that targeted elderly victims and others. Gregory Alan Smith, 58, of Shreveport, and Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 66, a senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty for their roles in stealing millions from elderly victims and others. Smith used his influence and status as the operator and manager of Smith Financial Group LLC in Shreveport, and Caldwell used his influence and status as pastor at a prominent Houston church to lure investors into sinking their money into what they thought were high-return investments. Instead of investing the money, the defendants divided the funds and used them to pay personal loans, mortgages, credit card balances, a down payment for vacation property, luxury vehicles purchases and to maintain their lifestyles.
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities. Major strides have already been made to that end:
· National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11. Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate services.
· Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.
· Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors, including two cases in the Western District of Louisiana, District of Louisiana.
o On December 10, 2019, Damilola Bamidele Isaac Samuel pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Samuel conspired with others to steal $260,726.09 from Regions Bank customers using fraudulently obtained ATM debit cards. Two checking accounts were also fraudulently set up in a bank customer’s name and used to transfer money from the customer’s legitimate account into the two fraudulently created accounts. On multiple occasions, Samuel was captured on Regions Bank’s ATM surveillance cameras utilizing the ATM cards created for the fraudulent checking accounts.
o On February 10, 2020, Pamela Webb, a Bank of Montgomery employee, was charged with stealing $41,000 from a Bank of Montgomery customer’s deposit box.
· Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year.
· Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting our elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams.
For more information on enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim services, please visit www.justice.gov/elderjustice.
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