Two U.S. citizens and a Canadian citizen have pleaded guilty for their roles in a $9 million “sweepstakes fraud” scheme to defraud hundreds of U.S. residents, many of them elderly, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina.
Jeffrey Robert Bonner, 37, of Sacramento, California; Cody Trevor Burgsteiner, 33, of Houston; and Darra Lee Shephard, 57, of Calgary, Alberta, pleaded guilty this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler of the Western District of North Carolina to various counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and international money laundering, all in connection with a Costa Rican telemarketing fraud scheme. Sentencing dates have not been set.
As part of their guilty pleas, Bonner, Burgsteiner and Shephard each admitted that from approximately 2007 through November 2012, they worked in a call center located in Costa Rica, which Bonner owned, where they placed telephone calls to U.S. residents, 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 pay for a purported “refundable insurance fee,” the defendants admitted. Bonner, Burgsteiner and Shephard admitted that once they received the money, they contacted the victims again to tell them that their prize amount had increased, due to either a clerical error or because other winners had been disqualified. The victims were then told to send additional money to pay for new purported fees, duties and insurance to receive the now larger sweepstakes prize, the defendants admitted. The defendants further admitted that they and their co-conspirators continued their attempts to collect additional money from the victims until an individual either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme. To mask that they were calling from Costa Rica, the conspirators utilized voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones that displayed a 202 area code, giving the false impression that they were calling from Washington, D.C., they admitted. According to admissions made in connections with their pleas, the defendants, and their co-conspirators often falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency to lure victims into a false sense of security.
Bonner, Burgsteiner, Shephard and their co-conspirators were responsible for causing approximately $9 million in losses to hundreds of U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Homeland Security investigated the case, and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section supervised the investigation. Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Donley and Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Gustav Eyler of the Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.