(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Miami County Prosecutor Gary Nasal today announced felony charges against 18 suspects accused of running a telemarketing fraud ring from Ohio and Florida that has stolen millions of dollars from thousands of victims in 41 states since 2007. Thirteen of the suspects have been taken into custody in Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and New York. Those from out of state will be extradited to Ohio.
"The state of Ohio will not tolerate those who defraud and steal," Attorney General DeWine said. "If you commit fraud in Ohio or upon Ohioans, my office will work to have you prosecuted regardless of where you are."
The suspects operated a criminal enterprise of at least three different companies that targeted victims nationwide who owned inexpensive, vacant land throughout the U.S., according to the indictment returned Tuesday. Landowners were fed a series of lies over the phone and led to believe their land was worth up to 15 times its assessed value. They were told that they had to pay fees of $500 to almost $16,000 to guarantee the sale of their land.
Most of these victims are elderly, and some of them originally bought this land when they returned home from war. Victims were allegedly told that the suspects would sell their land to eager buyers at lavish dinner shows in Las Vegas, Nev., Reno, Nev., and St. Louis, Mo. Other victims were told that investors in a solar energy plant had already agreed to purchase their land for the inflated value, but to finalize the sale they had to prepay the closing costs.
The indictment alleges that there were never any buyers, closings, or sales done in the lifetime of the companies.
The suspects tried to make their scheme appear legitimate. For example, videos on their website show a number of the suspects talking to a supposed crowd of eager buyers at what is claimed to be a dinner show in Las Vegas. But the video was actually filmed in a banquet room at the Brukner Nature Center in Troy, Ohio, and the only attendees were employees and family members with no buyers present, the indictment alleges.
The enterprise was founded in Ohio in 2007 and operated from many locations, including Troy, Huber Heights, and Vandalia. Later, the operation opened new branches in the Tampa, Fla., area.
"Criminals should understand that they can't use Miami County, Ohio, as a base of operations for their crimes," Miami County Prosecutor Gary Nasal said. "I look forward to working with the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute more of these cases."
The suspects were indicted for Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activities; Conspiracy; Aggravated Theft of $1.5 million or more; Telecommunications Fraud; Money Laundering; and Telemarketing Fraud. If convicted, the ringleaders face charges that can carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 37 and a half years.
The Ohio Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division led the investigation with extensive cooperation from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), the Clark County Sheriff, the Huber Heights Police Department, the Florida Attorney General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Pinellas County Sheriff, and the United States Postal Inspection Service. William Schenck, Jonathan Blanton, and Ryan Stubenrauch from the Ohio Attorney General's office have been appointed special assistant prosecutors for this case.
This case was one of the first investigations undertaken after Attorney General DeWine created the Economic Crimes Division within the Consumer Protection Section. It was created in March of 2011 with the purpose of identifying criminal conduct in consumer fraud cases and assisting Ohio's prosecuting attorneys in holding scammers criminally accountable. To date, 40 people have been charged with felonies as a result of investigations out of the Division.
Telemarketing ring (PDF)
Dan Tierney -- 614-466-3840
Eve Mueller -- 614-466-3840