An ongoing nationwide scam in which a serious-sounding "IRS official" calls to demand immediate payment for unspecified "violations" led a federal judge in Little Rock to impose a six-year prison sentence and a $1.3 million restitution order Tuesday.
Angel Chapotin Carrillo, 43, a Cuban national from Miami, was the second person to be sentenced as a result of a 10-person indictment in the Eastern District of Arkansas that focuses on one of several nationwide branches of the same wire-fraud scheme.
Carrillo was one of seven Cuban nationals arrested in April 2017 after their names were added to a 2016 indictment handed up in Little Rock that originally named just two people. A 10th person named in the superseding indictment remains on the run.
The indictment alleges that the defendants in the Arkansas indictment conspired to steal more than $1.3 million from 750 people in 18 states between March 2015 and May 2016. Indictments based in other federal courts across the country indicate that altogether, more than 8,000 people across the country have been victimized to the tune of about $9 million.
According to law enforcement officials, the scam begins with a call from a person claiming to be an Internal Revenue Service official notifying the recipient that he must address "violations" within two hours or face arrest or a civil lawsuit by day's end. Call recipients are told to call a number, where they are given instructions for sending money through Walmart-2-Walmart or MoneyGram wire services to satisfy the "violations."
Often, law enforcement officials say, the caller remains on the line while the victim is guided to an area Walmart to wire the money through the store's money transfer service to a Walmart in another state, where a runner -- such as Carrillo -- has been dispatched to pick it up.
In a July 2017 hearing in Little Rock, a federal agent testified that Carrillo was considered one of the "top runners" in the scheme, and was known to use at least 20 false identities to collect $1,339,336.36 in cash from wire service locations in the states in his region. The agent said the Walmart service was preferred by the con artists because it required recipients to supply only a name and address to retrieve money, while MoneyGram stations required recipients to show identification and fill out a receipt.
The agent said that Carrillo, using false identification when necessary, sometimes drove and sometimes flew to retrieve the money, which was then sent in the form of bulk cash drops or bank deposits to Yosvany Padilla, 27, the leader of the group indicted in Arkansas, who was then living in Florida.
Padilla, like Carrillo, has pleaded guilty before Wilson to wire-fraud conspiracy, admitting that he coordinated, produced and distributed false identification documents for his co-conspirators. He and two other people who have pleaded guilty in the conspiracy are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson.
Meanwhile, three other people named in the indictment have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in November and January, while the only person who was arrested and is maintaining his innocence, Ricardo Fontanella Caballero of Hialeah, Fla., is set for trial in December.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Bridges, who is prosecuting the Arkansas-based indictment, said that unlike many fraud schemes unraveled in federal court, the IRS impersonator scheme has had devastating consequences on thousands of ordinary victims across America. He said the victims are from all walks of life and come from society's most vulnerable segments, including the elderly who were tricked into turning over their life savings; poor people who sent money they had set aside to buy medication; people whose immigration status worried them, making them particularly vulnerable; veterans; and even people who had recently undergone surgery and were in a foggy state of mind when they received the call.
Late last month, Wilson sentenced Dennis Delgado Caballero, 40 of Miami, who was one of the first two people to be indicted in Arkansas, to the same sentence he later imposed for Carrillo: 72 months, or six years, in federal prison, plus the restitution, to be paid jointly and severally by all involved in the same scheme.
Both men speak little English and were accompanied by interpreters in the courtroom.
Wilson noted during last month's hearing that while sitting in his chambers, he was among those who received calls from people claiming to be IRS officials, apparently as part of the same scam. He said he was "astounded" that so many people "got duped" and wondered if word of the scam wasn't getting out to the public.
Bridges replied, "This is a numbers game. These schemes pop up faster than you can shut them down."
In court Tuesday, Carrillo's attorney, Richard Mays Jr., called him a "low-level person" who came to the United States from Cuba to work and "thought this was a real job, but accepts responsibility" for committing a crime.
Mays asked Wilson to sentence Carrillo at the lowest end of the 62- to 77-month penalty range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. Bridges responded that while Carrillo wasn't a leader in the conspiracy, he collected a substantial amount of money relative to others involved and went to 18 different states to do it.
"He covered some territory," Bridges said.
Metro on 10/24/2018