Miami, Florida - Four Peruvian residents have been extradited to the United States, where they stand accused of operating a large-scale extortion scheme from 2012 through 2015, the Justice Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced Tuesday.
Jesus Gerardo Gutierrez Rojas, 37, Maria de Guadalupe Alexandra Podesta Bengoa, 38, Virgilio Ignacio Polo Davila, 43, and Omar Alfredo Portocarrero Caceres, 39, face federal charges in Miami. Peruvian authorities arrested the four in late 2017, based upon a U.S. indictment. All four remained incarcerated in Peru since the time of their arrest. Peru approved their extradition to the U.S. on Jan. 18, 2019.
“The Department of Justice will pursue criminals who target and extort U.S. consumers, wherever they are,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “Those who extort U.S. consumers by phone cannot escape justice by placing their calls from abroad. I thank the Republic of Peru for extraditing these individuals to face charges in U.S. courts.”
“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 extortion schemes, such as this one, is a top priority of this Office and the Department of Justice, and I thank the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their unwavering commitment to rid the U.S. mail system of these schemes. This is a reminder to our community to be wary of those individuals who threaten imprisonment, a negative credit score or a change in immigration status; please report those threats immediately.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue those who threaten U.S. consumers and extort them of their hard earned money, regardless of what country they operate from,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Antonio J. Gomez. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service appreciates the continued partnership with the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch in pursuing South American call center operators who victimize consumers through the U.S. mail.”
Podesta, Polo, and Portocarrero allegedly managed and operated Peruvian call centers that placed calls to Spanish-speaking consumers across the United States while lying and threatening them into paying fraudulent settlements for nonexistent debts. Many of the consumer victims were elderly. Gutierrez was allegedly the general manager of a larger company where he worked in partnership with Podesta, Polo, and Portocarrero to facilitate their extortion scheme. The defendants’ associates in Miami collected the payments and sometimes shipped packages to victims in the U.S.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Podesta, Polo, Portocarrero, and their employees in Peru used Internet-based telephone calls and claimed to be attorneys and government representatives to threaten victims in the United States. The callers falsely claimed that victims failed to pay for or receive a delivery of products. The callers also falsely claimed that victims would be sued and that the companies would obtain large monetary judgements against them. Some victims were also threatened with negative marks on their credit reports, imprisonment, or immigration status. The callers said these threatened consequences could be avoided if the victims immediately paid “settlement fees.” Many victims made monetary payments based on these baseless threats.
A 34-count federal indictment was filed against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Dec. 6, 2016, and was unsealed upon the defendants’ extradition to the U.S. The defendants are approved to face 12 extortion counts pending against them. An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch. The 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.