South Dakota Takes Part in the United States Department of Justice’s Wide-Ranging Efforts to Protect Older Adults

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

SIOUX FALLS – The Justice Department has announced the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the Department and its law enforcement partners tackled matters that ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts were also made over the last year to return money to fraud victims. This week, the Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating overseas.

“We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorneys’ offices participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”

“Crimes that target older Americans are among the most deplorable. We take very seriously any allegations that older South Dakotans have been targeted. These crimes take many forms, often through mass-marketing scams, lottery schemes, or other false claims designed to gain access to financial accounts,” South Dakota U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell said. “Our office, in conjunction with our partner investigating agencies, is committed to finding these criminals and bringing them to justice.”  

During the past year, Department personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants across the nation, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.

This past year, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted and civilly pursued various cases in which older Americans were targeted. In one, Nathan Peachey and John Rick Winer were prosecuted along with several co-conspirators for a sophisticated scheme that robbed victims of their life savings, retirement income, and other funds. They lied to their victims with claims that they were investing funds that were to be used for charitable and humanitarian projects. Instead, the money was stolen and laundered through a network of entities and banks around the world. Peachey was sentenced to 25 years, and Winer was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison. They were also ordered to pay approximately $11 million in restitution.

In another case, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted Robert “Larry” Lytle and two conspirators for marketing and selling fraudulent medical devices, often to older Americans, falsely promising that they were cure-alls for virtually every ailment. Lytle was sentenced to 12 years, Ronald D. Weir, Jr., was sentenced to 2 years, and Irina Kossovskaia was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. They were ordered to pay millions in restitution to hundreds of victims.  Those prison sentences were handed down in 2018, and the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office has continued to vigorously pursue collection efforts. In recent months, $1,222,075 was received from various members of Lytle’s family after litigation commenced targeting assets that were transferred by Lytle to his family or their business entities. To date, $2,305,893.52 has been recovered to repay victims.    

As part of the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office’s elder fraud efforts, it engages in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization.

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Nationally, the Department has highlighted three other efforts: the expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims, and efforts to combat grandparent scams. With regard to the Department’s continuing efforts to protect older adults and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice, the Department is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force by adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices to the effort. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.

In the past year, the Department hs notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission payments. Notifications were made to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the Department and were later victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return for a fee. More than 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 million, and thousands more are eligible to receive checks. Also notified were consumers who paid fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. In the past year, the Department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March of 2020 more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million as a result of a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its aiding and abetting of wire fraud.

Over the past year, the Department pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scams.” These scams typically begin when a fraudster, often based overseas, contacts an older adult and poses as either a grandchild, other family member, or someone calling on behalf of a family member. Call recipients are told that their family member is in jeopardy and is urgently in need of money. When recently sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal judge described such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes.   

Reporting from consumers about fraud and fraud attempts is critical to law enforcement’s efforts to investigate and prosecute schemes targeting older adults. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting or connect them with agencies, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. [ET]. English, Spanish, and other languages are available. More information about the Department’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.