Fort Lauderdale, Florida - Three residents of Lima, Peru, pleaded guilty Wednesday to extortion for overseeing a ring of call centers that threatened and extorted Spanish-speaking victims in the United States, the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced.
Jesus Gerardo Gutierrez Rojas, 37, Maria de Guadalupe Alexandra Podesta Bengoa, 38, and Virgilio Ignacio Polo Davila, 43, were extradited from Peru in April and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Roy K. Altman in Fort Lauderdale. As part of his guilty plea, Gutierrez admitted that he oversaw a number of affiliated call centers in Peru that falsely told Spanish-speaking victims across the United States that they had incurred debts and would suffer various consequences for failure to pay off the debts that they did not, in fact, owe. As part of their guilty pleas, Podesta and Polo admitted that they managed and supervised two of these affiliated call centers that used extortion to obtain money from U.S. victims.
“The Department of Justice is committed to identifying and prosecuting criminals who target and extort U.S. consumers,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt. “Yesterday’s guilty pleas demonstrate that those who threaten U.S. consumers by phone cannot escape justice by placing their calls from abroad. Working with our international partners, we will bring them to justice no matter where they reside. I thank the Republic of Peru for extraditing these defendants to face justice in our courts and the U.S. Postal Insecption Service for its work investigating this case.”
As part of their guilty pleas, Podesta and Polo admitted that their Peruvian call centers contacted U.S. consumers, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, using Internet-based calls. Claiming to be attorneys and government representatives, Podesta, Polo and their callers falsely told victims that they failed to pay for or receive a delivery of products and threatened them into paying fraudulent settlements for nonexistent debts. The callers falsely threatened victims with lawsuits, negative marks on their credit reports, imprisonment, or immigration consequences if they did not immediately pay for the purportedly delivered products and “settlement fees.” Many victims made payments based on these baseless extortionate threats.
Gutierrez was the general manager of a larger company where he worked in partnership with Podesta, Polo, and others to facilitate their extortion scheme. The defendants’ associates in Miami collected the payments and sometimes shipped packages to victims in the U.S.
“If an individual who claims to be an attorney or government representative calls and instructs you to pay money to: receive products you did not buy; avoid a lawsuit; avoid imprisonment; or avoid a change in immigration status, hang up and immediately report that threat to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan. “I thank the Republic of Peru for extraditing the defendants in this case and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their unwavering commitment to investigate and pursue those who threaten U.S. consumers.”
“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.”
With yesterday’s three guilty pleas, all five defendants who have been charged in connection with this large-scale extortion scheme have now pleaded guilty.
Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch is prosecuting the case. 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.