Florida residents headed to prison over Costa Rica sweepstakes scam targeting the elderly

ORLANDO, Fla. – Four Florida residents are headed to prison after pleading guilty in connection with a sweepstakes scheme that bilked dozens of elderly people out of nearly $1.4 million.

The individuals perpetrated the scam by contacting elderly people across the U.S. and telling them they had won a prize in a sweepstakes, officials said.

“They falsely told the victims that they had to send money to pay various fees and taxes necessary to retrieve their prize,” court documents said.

They ran the scam with telemarketers at call centers in Costa Rica, investigators said.

One of the scammers was found to have flown from Orlando to Costa Rica at least six times to pay call center workers, court documents said.

The individuals opened accounts at several banks to deposit funds from victims, ultimately taking at least 57 people for almost $1.4 million.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely the victims will get much of their money back, even though their plea agreements require them to pay restitution, WFTV legal analyst Belvin Perry said.

“They may see part of (the stolen funds), but it is all dependent solely upon the individual’s ability to pay,” Perry said. “It is tantamount, if they don’t have any assets, to trying to get blood out of a turnip.

“The chances of recovering something are very unlikely.”

The victims, who were not identified in court documents, have a better chance of getting some of their money back because the scammers were charged in federal court because the feds can seize property, Perry said.

The four individuals previously pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The scammers were identified as:

Audrey Montserrate, 50, of Dania

Benancio Lopez, 53, of St. Cloud

Richard Ellis, 30, of Miami

Donald S. Sutliff, 42, of Kissimmee

by: Mike Manzoni http://www.wftv.com/ Updated: Jun 20, 2017 – 11:19 PM

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