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Two charged in ‘grandparent scam’

CLEVELAND — Two Tampa, Fla. men are charged in a nine-count federal indictment involving the scamming of elderly people throughout the Northern Ohio district.

John Tyler Pla, 25, and Johnny Lee Palmer, 25, both of Tampa, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud, according to U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. A federal grand jury sitting in Toledo returned the indictments.

“Protecting our district’s elderly and vulnerable populations from scammers and fraudsters is an important part of the work we do every day at the Justice Department,” Herdman said. “Manipulating and exploiting our district’s elderly in any way, for any reason, will be met with swift prosecution.”

FBI Special Agent Eric B. Smith said his unit is increasingly watching over the elderly to prevent scams.

“The FBI encourages everyone to educate their elderly family and friends on financial scams such as this,” Smith said, referring to the case against the Florida men. “These two fraudsters played on the heart-strings of grandparents. Discussions prior to receiving a possible phone call from scammers can prevent your loved one from being a victim.”

According to the indictment, from July 20 to Aug. 28 this year, the defendants are accused of conspiring together to orchestrate a “grandparent scam” on elderly victims in Brecksville, Parma, Gates Mills, Lorain, Mansfield, Fairview Park, Westlake and Mentor.

To conduct their alleged scheme, the defendants are accused of calling elderly victims in these areas claiming to be a relative — such as a grandson, granddaughter, or an attorney for the relative — and informing the elderly victim that he or she had been arrested and needed money for bail.

The indictment states that the conspirators would then arrange for a purported courier to pick up the money in person. The defendants would then rent a U-Haul vehicle and travel to the victims’ residence to collect the money in person. In total, the victims suffered a combined loss of $383,932.

The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted by the Cleveland Division of the FBI and Westlake Police Department. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian McDonough.

According to Herdman, this case is part of the Justice Department’s 2020 national Money Mule initiative. The Money Mule initiative seeks to stop the financial exploitation of the nation’s elderly and vulnerable populations.

Since President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act 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, in March, the department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep.

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