September 18, 2023 - Three men were sentenced on Friday in Las Vegas for perpetrating a prize-notification scheme that stole more than $10 million from elderly and vulnerable victims.
Mario Castro, 55, of Las Vegas, was sentenced to 240 months in prison. Miguel Castro, 58, of Las Vegas, was sentenced to 235 months in prison. Jose Luis Mendez, 49, of Henderson, Nevada, was sentenced to 168 months in prison. In April, a jury found the three men guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and multiple individual counts of mail fraud.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, the three defendants and other co-conspirators printed and mailed millions of fraudulent prize notices that led their victims to believe that they could claim a large cash prize if they paid a fee of about $20 to $25. This was false; victims who paid the fees did not receive anything of value. Once victims fell prey to the scheme, the defendants bombarded them with more fraudulent prize notices. The defendants produced the fake prize notices at their warehouse in Las Vegas. The defendants received millions of dollars of money from victims.
“For eight years, Mario Castro, Miguel Castro, and Jose Luis Mendez used lies and deceit to steal from the elderly and vulnerable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The jury’s verdict and the sentences hold them accountable for their predatory conduct. The department is committed to protecting consumers from mass-mailing schemes.”
The defendants operated the scheme from 2010 to February 2018, when postal inspectors executed multiple search warrants and the Justice Department obtained a court order shutting down the fraudulent mail operation. Mario Castro, Miguel Castro and Jose Luis Mendez worked at the printing and mailing businesses that sent the fraudulent mail and shared the profits from the fraudulent prize notices. The defendants and their co-conspirators ignored multiple cease and desist orders from the U.S. Postal Service that prohibited their mailing companies from sending fraudulent mail. The defendants responded to the cease and desist orders by changing the names of their companies and using straw owners to hide their continuing fraud.
“These defendants took part in a conspiracy that preyed upon and deceived elderly consumers with repeated promises of large cash prizes,” said U.S. Attorney Jason M. Frierson for the District of Nevada. “We are committed to working with the Consumer Protection Branch and U.S. Postal Inspection Service to protect vulnerable members of our community, and to investigate and prosecute fraudsters who target seniors.”
“Postal Inspectors are steadfast in our dedication to protecting the American people from prize-notice schemes and other mail fraud schemes, especially those that target seniors and their hard-earned savings” said Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the Criminal Investigations Group of the U.S Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). “We work to rid the mail stream from fraudulent mass mailing solicitations and make the mail safe for all.”
Four other people previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with this prize notice scheme: Patti Kern, 65, of Henderson; Andrea Burrow, 43, of Las Vegas; Edgar Del Rio, 45, of Las Vegas; and Sean O’Connor, 54, of Las Vegas.
The USPIS investigated the case.
Trial Attorneys Timothy Finley and Daniel Zytnick of the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mina Chang for the District of Nevada prosecuted the case.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Justice Department hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.
More information about the department’s efforts to help American seniors is available at its Elder Justice Initiative webpage. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada visit www.justice.gov/usao-nv. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Justice Department provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office for Victims of Crime, which can be reached at www.ovc.gov.
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