Leonard C Boyle, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that MONTRELL DOBBS, JR., 28, of Ansonia, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 18 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for serving as a “money mule” in lottery and romance scams that defrauded primarily elderly victims across the country of millions of dollars.
Pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the sentencing occurred via videoconference.
According to court documents and statements made in court, in a lottery scam, scammers notify victims by telephone, through online communications, or by mail, that they have won the lottery. The victims are then told that in order to collect the prize they must pay fees for things like taxes, shipping and processing. Often, once a victim sends a small amount of money, a scammer will ask for larger sums of money with a promise of more winnings. The victims never receive winnings. In a romance scam, scammers take advantage of people looking for companionship by pretending to be prospective companions. Scammers typically create fake online profiles on dating websites that include false personal details such as the death of a spouse, or military service, to lure victims to trust them. Once they have gained the trust of victims, scammers will ask victims for money, falsely claiming to need money for medical or business emergencies, for travel to see the victim, or other purposes.
Dobbs was recruited to be a “money mule” for individuals who were operating lottery and romance scams between approximately August 2015 and March 2020. Dobbs retrieved fraudulently obtained cash, checks and money orders that were sent through the mail to various addresses in New Haven, Hamden and Ansonia, and he retrieved funds that were wired through electronic money transfers. Also, using the alias “Derek Williams,” Dobbs retrieved from the Ansonia Post Office packages containing fraudulently obtained cash and checks. Dobbs deposited checks and money orders into his own bank account, kept a portion of the funds, and passed along the remaining money to other co-conspirators, either by mailing cash or depositing money into other bank accounts.
The investigation revealed that these scams defrauded more than 200 victims across the U.S. of more than $5 million. Many of the victims were elderly and vulnerable, and some victims lost their life savings. One Connecticut victim lost more than $1 million.
Dobbs’ involvement in the scheme involved at least 25 victims who lost more a total of more than $85,000. Judge Underhill ordered Dobbs to pay full restitution.
Dobbs was arrested on March 12, 2020. On December 21, 2020, he pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
Dobbs, who is released on a $100,000 bond, is required to report to prison on June 2.
Four of Dobbs’ alleged co-conspirators are awaiting trial.
This matter is being investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Army-CID, and New Haven Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather L. Cherry.
The Justice Department has established a National Elder Fraud Hotline to provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. The Hotline is staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers. Case managers assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed. When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller. The Hotline’s toll free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).