Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that RODNEY THOMAS, JR., 31, of New Haven, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport to 72 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for his role in lottery and romance scams that defrauded primarily elderly victims across the country of millions of dollars.
According to the evidence presented during a trial in this matter, 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.
Between approximately August 2015 and March 2020, Farouq Fasasi and others used lottery scams, romance scams and other fraudulent means to induce elderly victims to provide them with money, gifts and personal details. Fasasi recruited Thomas into the scheme in 2017. Victims sent cash, money orders or checks through the mail to various addresses in Connecticut, and also wired or deposited money into bank accounts in Connecticut controlled by conspiracy members and their associates.
Fasasi, Thomas and other co-conspirators lived together for a time at a residence on Sherman Avenue in New Haven, where many packages containing cash, checks and money orders from victims were delivered. Fasasi and Thomas recruited others into the scheme, including those who served as “money mules.” These individuals used personal bank accounts, and also established and used bank accounts in the names of businesses and charitable organizations, to launder money obtained from fraud victims.
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.
Judge Underhill will issue a restitution order after additional court proceedings.
On February 15, 2022, Fasasi and Thomas were found guilty of multiple charges stemming from this scheme. On August 8, 2022, Judge Underhill sentenced Fasasi to 14 years of imprisonment and ordered him to pay more than $5.9 million in restitution.
Four other individuals have been charged and convicted of offenses stemming from their participation in this scheme.
Thomas has been detained since May 31, 2022, when his bond was revoked for violating conditions of his release.
“This defendant was an active participant in a scheme that involved the cruel theft from numerous seniors and other vulnerable individuals, and this prison term is appropriate,” said U.S. Attorney Avery. “I thank all of our law enforcement partners who investigated this case and helped achieve some justice for the victims of these crimes. The Justice Department has made it a priority to investigate and prosecute those who commit these crimes. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be falling victim to one of these schemes, I encourage you to call your local police department or 833-FRAUD-11 for assistance.”
“Lottery scams and romance scams cost Americans millions every year,” said Inspector in Charge Ketty Larco-Ward of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division. “Losses can be monumental and entire fortunes, inheritances and retirement security can be wiped-out. This sentencing demonstrates the commitment of our agency along with our law enforcement partners to bring unscrupulous scam artists to justice.”
“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) aggressively investigates individuals who impersonate Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees or who use the IRS’s tax collecting authority to scam others, especially seniors and other vulnerable populations,” said Trevor Nelson, TIGTA’s Deputy Inspector General for Investigations. “The defendants in this case did just that, targeting and victimizing the most vulnerable in our society. Our mission at TIGTA is to protect the integrity of our nation’s system of tax administration. We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who endeavor to corrupt federal tax administration are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
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). For more information, please visit. https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/stop-elder-fraud/providing-help-restoring-hope.
This matter was 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. Attorneys Heather L. Cherry and Stephanie T. Levick.