A California woman pleaded guilty this week in an international fraud case, officials said.
A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office states that the case started in 2014 when 16 individuals were arrested in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin, New York and Indiana, pursuant to an eight-count federal indictment filed in the Southern District of Mississippi.
Susan Ann Villeneuve, 61, of Escalon, California, entered guilty pleas on May 15 to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The case involved a West African transnational organized crime enterprise involved in numerous complex financial fraud schemes over the internet.
The mass marketing fraud included romance scams, re-shipping scams, fraudulent check scams and work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account take-overs.
The investigation was initiated in October 2011 by Homeland Security agents in Gulfport after U.S. law enforcement officers were contacted by a female victim in Mississippi who was the victim of a sweetheart scam. The victim received a package in the mail requesting that she reship the merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa.
The investigation later revealed that the merchandise was purchased using stolen personal identity information and fraudulent credit card information of persons in the United States. Investigators have identified hundreds of victims of this scam in the United States, resulting in the loss of millions of U.S. dollars.
Villeneuve was responsible for sending out over $26,000,000 in counterfeit checks to victims across the country by USPS, UPS and FedEx. She will be sentenced on August 22, 2017 by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden in Gulfport, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and an additional two years in prison on the aggravated identity theft charge.
The investigation was led by the HSI Gulfport office in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, South African Police Service, Toronto Police, HSI Cyber Crimes Center, Treasury Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture, HSI Ontario, HSI Charleston, Interpol South Africa, HSI Pretoria and HSI Atlanta.