A federal grand jury in San Diego has returned an indictment against eight defendants for their alleged roles in a federal racketeering conspiracy. The indictment alleges the defendants were members and associates of a criminal enterprise that defrauded elderly Americans by making them falsely believe that a grandchild (or other close relative) was in trouble and needed their help. The elderly victims each paid thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to the criminal organization in this scheme.
The grand jury returned an indictment charging the defendants with conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Six defendants have been arrested – Timothy Ingram aka Bleezy, 29, of North Hollywood, California; Anajah Gifford, 23, of North Hollywood, California; Joaquin Lopez, 45, of Hollywood, Florida; Jack Owuor, 24, of Paramount, California; Tracy Glinton, 34, of Orlando, Florida; and Lyda Harris, 73, of Laveen, Arizona. Two additional defendants – Tracy Adrine Knowles, 29, and Adonis Alexis Butler Wong, 29, who each resided in Florida during the alleged offense – have also been charged.
“These defendants were part of a large network of individuals that systematically targeted elderly Americans by preying on their concern for loved ones," said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Arun Rao for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting individuals who take part in such schemes that target vulnerable people. We are grateful to our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California and the FBI in advancing the Department’s efforts against organized elder fraud, and to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.”
“This scheme has left many elderly victims financially and emotionally devastated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “It is unconscionable to target the elderly and exploit their love for their grandchildren. Elder fraud is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. We are committed to combating all types of elder abuse in our community.”
“Elder Fraud is a massive and growing problem, as our county’s population gets older, with losses into the billions of dollars nationwide,” said Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The San Diego Elder Justice Task Force was set up to combine resources, experience, and capabilities to have a sophisticated and coordinated law enforcement response to fight this battle.”
According to the indictment, the defendants were members and associates of a network of individuals who, through extortion and fraud, induced elderly Americans across the United States to pay thousands to tens of thousands of dollars each to purportedly help their grandchild or other close family relatives. According to statements made by prosecutors in court, the defendants swindled more than $2 million from 70-plus elderly victims across the nation, with at least 10 in San Diego County. The perpetrators contacted elderly Americans by telephone and impersonated a grandchild, other close relative, or friend of the victim. They falsely convinced the victims that their relatives were in legal trouble and needed money to pay for bail, medical expenses for car accident victims, or to prevent additional charges from being filed. The defendants and their co-conspirators received money from victims via various means, including in-person pickup, mail, and wire transfer, and laundered the proceeds, including through cryptocurrency.
The case was investigated by the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, which is a collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the District Attorney’s Office and all San Diego County law enforcement agencies. The Elder Justice Task Force was officially launched in February 2020 and is believed to be the first comprehensive local law enforcement effort for this purpose anywhere in the country.
A number of law enforcement agencies and offices across the country have investigated components of the scheme, including the FBI’s field offices in Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, and San Francisco; the Dallas Police Department; and police departments across several states, including the Jacksonville Police Department in Alabama; the Anaheim Police Department, Burbank Police Department, Carlsbad Police Department, Downey Police Department, El Cajon Police Department, Garden Grove Police Department, Huntington Beach Police Department, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Oceanside Police Department, Pasadena Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, Santa Monica Police Department, and Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in California; the Dalton Police Department and Spalding County Police Department in Georgia; the Lee County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina; the Akron Police Department, Cleveland Division of Police, and Sagamore Hills Police Department in Ohio; the Carmel Police Department in Indiana; the St. Joseph Sheriff and Troy Police Department in Michigan; the Fergus Falls Police Department in Minnesota; the New York State Police and Suffolk County Police Department in New York; and the Colleyville Police Department, City of Fair Oaks Ranch Police Department, Grand Prairie Police Department, and Richardson Police Department in Texas. The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the District of Arizona, Central District of California, Middle District of Florida, Western District of North Carolina, and Northern District of Ohio provided assistance in the investigation.
Trial Attorneys Lauren M. Elfner and Wei Xiang with the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Oleksandra Johnson of the Southern District of California are prosecuting the case.
The Consumer Protection Branch coordinates the department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, working with U.S. Attorney’s Offices and law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute scams run by transnational criminal organizations, including mass mailing, telemarketing, and tech support scams. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch
An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.