Quincy Man Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Charities and Law Firms
BOSTON – A Quincy man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Boston to using counterfeit cashier’s checks to defraud victims, including charities and law firms, of at least $1 million.
Manuel Ponce Vazquez, 59, pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with one count of mail fraud. Ponce Vazquez was charged and arrested in April 2016. U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani scheduled sentencing for Nov. 4, 2016.
Beginning around August 2013, Ponce Vazquez and his co-conspirators defrauded law firms and other victims by sending them counterfeit cashier’s checks, then convincing them to forward a portion of the checks’ supposed value to bank accounts Ponce Vazquez opened, generally using an alias. Once the checks were discovered to be fraudulent, the victims’ bank accounts were debited, and the victims were left with thousands of dollars in losses, having unwittingly forwarded their own money to Ponce Vazquez.
On several occasions, Ponce Vazquez and his co-conspirators targeted charities and other non-profits. Posing as a philanthropist, a conspirator would tell a charity that he wished to make a large donation of a specified amount. Soon after, the charity would receive a cashier’s check, ostensibly from the supposed donor, but in excess of the expected amount. The conspirator would explain that the excess money had been sent by mistake and ask for it to be returned, claiming in several instances that it was needed urgently to help a child suffering from an acute illness who required surgery within the week. Only after the charity had sent Ponce Vazquez thousands of dollars would it learn that the cashier’s check was a fake.
More frequently, the targets of Ponce Vazquez’s scam were law firms who believed they were being hired to help collect a debt. Before the firms took any action to collect the supposed debt, they received counterfeit cashier’s checks, ostensibly from the debtors, fully repaying the debt. At the direction of one of Ponce Vazquez’s co-conspirators, the firms forwarded the majority of the checks’ purported value to a bank account that Ponce Vazquez controlled, unwittingly paying Ponce Vazquez using the firms’ own money.
The charging statute provides a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, and restitution. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. Assistance was also provided by Braintree Police Department and the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian A. Pérez-Daple of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit.