Miami, Florida - Two Peruvian men pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud for operating a large fraud and extortion scheme, the Department of Justice announced.
Johnny Enso Hidalgo Marchan, 40, and Rodolfo Hermoza, 44, oversaw call centers in Peru that used government impersonation, lies, and threats to steal money from thousands of U.S. Spanish-speaking victims. Both men were extradited from Peru in December 2019.
As part of their guilty pleas, Hidalgo and Hermoza admitted that they falsely posed as attorneys affiliated with U.S. courts and government agencies in threatening victims with detention, confiscation of property, credit ramifications, deportation, and community-service requirements to obtain payments from the victims. U.S. consumers lost over $1 million to the defendants’ fraud scheme.
“The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch will pursue and prosecute transnational criminals who defraud U.S. consumers, wherever they are,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Disrupting transnational telemarketing fraud schemes — especially those that target vulnerable populations — is a priority for the Department of Justice. Criminals responsible for those schemes will not escape justice by placing their calls from abroad.”
Hidalgo and Hermoza managed and operated Peruvian call centers based in Lima and Cajamarca, Peru, that worked in partnership with another entity in Miami, Florida. Hidalgo, Hermoza, and their employees in Peru used Internet-based telephone calls to lie to and threaten Spanish-speaking victims in the United States. The callers often 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 — many of whom were elderly — had never ordered or received the products.
The defendants and other call center employees claimed that the consumers could resolve the supposed debts and avoid threatened consequences if they immediately paid a “settlement fee.” Consumers who contested the 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 Fajardo Orshan of 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 Postal Inspector in Charge Antonio J. Gomez. “With the continued cooperation of foreign governments these criminals will be aggressively pursued and brought to justice.”
A 37-count federal indictment was filed against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in June 2015 and was unsealed upon the defendants’ Dec. 18, 2019 extradition to the United States. A third defendant was also charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and attempted extortion charges and is currently pending trial.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Two individuals previously were brought to justice in connection with this scheme. In 2014, charges were brought against Angeluz and Maria Luzula of Miami and Juan Alejandro Rodriguez Cuya of Lima, Peru. Luzula pleaded guilty to all counts against her midway through trial and was sentenced to serve 165 months in prison. Rodriguez Cuya was convicted following a two-week trial. U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz sentenced Rodriguez Cuya to serve 210 months in prison.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian of the Department of Justice’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 Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, and the Peruvian National Police provided critical assistance.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In particular, this past March the Department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 260 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. The Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.
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.