Another Tech Support Fraudster Sentenced To Prison
An American citizen who spent over a year running the day-to-day operations of a fraudulent tech support call center in Costa Rica is heading to prison. Michael Cary Lawing, 34, of Lincolnton, North Carolina, has been sentenced to serve 18 months behind bars for his role as the CEO of ABC Repair Tech (ABC) from 2015 to 2016. Lawing pleaded guilty in October 2018 to a one-count felony information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to court documents, Lawing’s company was affiliated with another fraudulent tech support business in South Florida known as First Choice Tech Support, which later changed its name to Client Care Experts (CCE). Both ABC and CCE purchased pop-up advertisements that would appear suddenly on a person’s computer screen. The pop-ups were made to look like system warnings and falsely informed the victims that serious problems, such as viruses or malware, had been detected on their computers. Often, the pop-ups caused the person’s internet browser to freeze up and stop responding. The pop-ups also typically warned the victims not to shut down their computers or else they would lose all their data. Instead, the ads directed them to call a toll-free number, where they were connected to sales representatives who continued the fraud.
The sales representatives at ABC and CCE would convince the victims to grant them remote access to their computers, where normal computer functions and routine processes were highlighted as evidence of serious computer problems. Victims were never told that the pop-ups that had hijacked their computers were just advertisements purchased by the tech support company, or that in most instances they could make the pop-ups go away simply by rebooting their computers. Instead, they were sold remote “tune-ups” for $250 and anti-virus protection software for another $400. If victims balked at the steep prices, the sales representatives would offer them a discount for being a senior citizen or a military veteran or something else.
From 2013-2016, the two companies – CCE and ABC – combined to defraud more than 40,000 people.
Victims were located in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several U.S. territories, all 10 Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, and several other foreign countries. At least 57 victims of the scams were residents of the Southern District of Illinois, representing 22 of the district’s 38 counties, including St. Clair and Madison. All told, the two companies took in over $25 million.
In handing down the 18-month sentence, Chief United States District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel explained that the need to deter other would-be scammers was a “big factor” in her decision. “The general public needs to see that this kind of crime is taken seriously,” she said.
As part of his sentence, Lawing was ordered to pay back over $266,000 in restitution to ABC victims – a figure that represents ten percent of the roughly $2.6 million in actual losses incurred by
over 10,000 victims during Lawing’s tenure as the company’s top executive. Evidence presented in court showed that Lawing himself made only about $90,000 from the scam. The bulk of ABC’s fraudulent earnings were reportedly reinvested in the company.
Lawing’s sentence comes just one week after CCE’s Vice President, Grand Clark Wasik, 36, of Oakland Park, Florida, was sentenced to 125 months in prison and ordered to pay over $10 million in restitution. Wasik pled guilty to count one of a 14-count superseding indictment earlier this year.
Two former owners of CCE, Michael Austin Seward, 32, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Kevin James McCormick, 46, of Delray Beach, Florida, also pled guilty to their role in the conspiracy and are
due to be sentenced on November 18. The Honorable Joe Billy McDade from the Central District of Illinois, who presided over Wasik’s case, will also conduct the sentencings of Seward and McCormick.
Since April 2017, 14 other employees of CCE and ABC have also pleaded guilty to federal fraud violations in the Southern District of Illinois:
• Joseph Ralph Aievoli, IV, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Cory Steven Bachman, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Andrew Douglas Broad, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Director of Training at CCE
• Ryan Stocker Carr, 24, of Mount Laurel, NJ – Team Leader at CCE
• Joshua Dennis Cortez, 38, of Lake Worth, FL – Director of Training at CCE
• Erica Marie Crowell, 30, of Maple Shade, NJ – Salesperson at CCE
• Nicholas James Davidson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Patrick M. Dougherty, 36, of Boynton Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Tatum Elyse Espenshade, 27, of West Palm Beach, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Eric M. Iannaccone, 33, of Monroe Township, NJ – Sales Manager at CCE
• Anthony Vincent Ludena, 30, of Boca Raton, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Robert Thomas McCart, 33, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at CCE
• Timothy James Miller, II, 28, of Schwenksville, PA – Salesperson at CCE
• Jonathan Matthew Richardson, 28, of Lake Worth, FL – Salesperson at CCE
• Kyle Evan Swinson, 27, of Boynton Beach, FL – Team Leader at ABC/CCE
Eleven of these additional defendants have been sentenced already:
|Mar. 8, 2018||Ryan Carr||12 months + 1 day||$20,384.36|
|May 7, 2018||Joshua Cortez||18 months||$3,034.00|
|June 8, 2018||Patrick Dougherty||12 months + 1 day||$240,966.94|
|June 14, 2018||Anthony Ludena||12 months + 1 day||$176,692.26|
|June 29, 2018||Nicholas Davidson||5 years probation||$181,808.40|
|July 26, 2018||Timothy Miller||5 years probation + 200 hours|
|Aug. 3, 2018||Tatum Espenshade||1 day + 18 months home detention||$132,683.68|
|Sept. 11, 2018||Andrew Broad||12 months + 1 day||$55,238.28|
|Sept. 20, 2018||Jonathan Richardson||12 months + 1 day||$78,638.99|
|Oct. 4, 2018||Cory Bachman||1 day||$156,806.25|
|Oct. 10, 2019||Joseph Aievoli||1 day||$106,355.82|
Because the crimes allegedly took place in connection with telemarketing and victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55, the maximum punishment in each case is 30 years imprisonment. The defendants could also be ordered to serve up to five years of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $250,000. Under federal law, restitution to identified victims is mandatory.
These cases are part of an ongoing investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service and are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan D. Stump, Scott A. Verseman, and Ranley R. Killian.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office raided CCE in June 2016 and has been cooperating with the federal investigation, in addition to bringing its own civil enforcement action against CCE under Florida state law.
The Federal Trade Commission has been working for some time to shut down illegal tech support scams. For more information about the FTC’s “2019 Tech Support Takedown,” please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/…2019.
Some consumers who were victimized by ABC or CCE / First Choice Tech Support have received additional fraudulent calls. These calls typically come from companies claiming either (a) that the technical support the victims purchased has been transferred to them and additional funds are now needed; or (b) that they can help the victims obtain a refund. Victims should be advised that no companies have been authorized to provide them with any tech support services on behalf of ABC or CCE / First Choice Tech Support, or to provide them with a refund for any previous purchases.