DOJ charges ‘unprecedented number’ of elder fraud offenders

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Federal prosecutors have broken up an international fraud operation that stole more than $3,000,000 from one of the nation’s most vulnerable generations and federal prosecutors say a Huntington woman played a key role in it.

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The Department of Justice announced today an unprecedented sweep of charges against hundreds of offenders who allegedly engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. 

United States Attorney Mike Stuart joined Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale announced the sweep in which prosecutors charged more than 400 defendants, far surpassing the 260 defendants charged in cases as part of last year’s sweep.  In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused alleged losses of over a billion dollars.

Describing elder fraud as a “diabolical crime that preys on the vulnerabilities of some of the most vulnerable among us,” Stuart says the crimes can be devastating to victims who often lose their life savings. 

“We are using both criminal and civil enforcement tools to hold fraudsters accountable and seek justice for the victims,” he said.  

As 13 News has previously reported, federal prosecutors indicted Patricia Dudding, 68, of Huntington, for her role in an international Nigerian fraud scheme, the largest elder fraud scheme ever prosecuted in West Virginia history. 

The indictment charges Dudding with conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud and unlawful money transactions. 

Prosecutors say they believe Dudding to be working as a “money mule.” According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a money mule is someone who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another.

In the indictment, officials alleged that Dudding acted as a money mule for a Nigerian scammer, “Lucas,” who she met online in early spring 2018 and communicated frequently with by email and text message.

“Egregious,” United States Attorney Mike Stuart said during the press conference announcing the indictment. “This is the largest elder fraud scheme ever prosecuted in the history of West Virginia and our work continues. This case is significant on a national and international level.”

“Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” Barr said.  “I want to thank the men and women of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which coordinated this effort, and all those in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Criminal Division who worked tirelessly to bring these cases. The Department is committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors.”

“The exploitation of a vulnerable population is a particular evil,” said United States Secret Service Resident Agent in Charge Wade Fleming. “We will continue to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to bring offenders to justice and recover money for the victims.”

This interactive map (https://www.justice.gov/civil/elder-fraud-sweeps-2020) provides information on the elder fraud cases highlighted by today’s sweep announcement. 

Elder Fraud Hotline 

Attorney General Barr also announced the launch of a National Elder Fraud Hotline, which will provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. 

The Hotline will be staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers.  Case managers will 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 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).

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