Source: United States Department of Justice
A Peruvian man pleaded guilty today to multiple federal felonies for operating a large fraud and extortion scheme, the Department of Justice announced today. Francesco Guerra Perez oversaw a call center in Lima, Peru, that used government impersonation, lies, and threats to take money from thousands of U.S. Spanish-speaking victims, many of whom were elderly.
A federal indictment against Guerra and his co-defendants Rodolfo Hermoza Vega and Johnny Hidalgo Marchan was unsealed upon their Dec. 18, 2019, extradition to the United States. Hermoza and Hidalgo pleaded guilty to conspiring with Guerra to commit mail fraud and wire fraud on Jan. 15, 2020.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Guerra, Hidalgo, Hermoza, and their co-conspirators in Peru falsely posed as attorneys affiliated with the U.S. government and U.S. courts; they threatened victims with deportation, detention, negative marks on their credit reports, confiscation of property, and community service requirements in order to obtain payments from them. U.S. consumers lost more than $1.5 million to the defendants’ fraud scheme. Guerra’s sentencing is set for Monday, June 1, 2020.
“The Department of Justice will pursue and prosecute transnational criminals who defraud U.S. consumers, regardless where the criminals seek to hide,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We are particularly committed to bringing to justice those abroad who falsely claim U.S. government affiliation to defraud and threaten vulnerable American consumers.”
Guerra pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of attempted extortion. With Guerra’s guilty plea, all five individuals charged in connection with the scheme have been convicted. In addition to Guerra, Hildago, and Hermoza, two other individuals, Maria Luzula, of Miami, and Juan Alejandro Rodriguez Cuya, of Lima, Peru, were previously brought to justice in connection with this scheme. In 2014, Luzula pleaded guilty to numerous felonies and was sentenced to 165 months’ incarceration. Rodriguez Cuya was convicted following a two-week trial and was sentenced to 210 months in prison.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Guerra, Hidalgo, and Hermoza managed and operated a Peruvian call center called Everglades, which was based in Lima, Peru, and which worked in partnership with Angeluz Florida Corporation in Miami, Florida. The defendants and other call center employees in Peru used Internet-based telephone calls to lie to and threaten Spanish-speaking victims in the United States. The callers falsely accused the victims of having failed to accept delivery of certain products and claimed that the victims owed thousands of dollars in fines and that court proceedings would be brought against them. In reality, the victims had never ordered these products and nothing had been delivered.
The defendants and other call center employees claimed that the consumers could resolve the supposed debts and avoid the threatened consequences if they immediately paid a “settlement fee.” Consumers who contested these settlement fees were told that failure to pay could lead to harmed credit, arrest, deportation, or seizure of property.
“Individuals who defraud American consumers will be brought to justice, no matter where they are located,” said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida. “Protecting the elderly and vulnerable members of our community from schemes, such as this one, is a top priority of this office and the Department of Justice.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will not allow overseas criminal enterprises to illegally enrich themselves by using the mail to defraud consumers in the United States,” said Miami Division Inspector in Charge, Antonio J. Gomez. “With the continued cooperation of foreign governments these criminals will be aggressively pursued and brought to justice.”
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Phil Toomajian and Joshua Rothman of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida, the Diplomatic Security Service, and the Peruvian National Police provided critical assistance.
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 its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office for Victims of Crime, which can be reached at https://www.ovc.gov.