Two Washington state residents were indicted today by a federal grand jury in Sacramento for running a sweepstakes scam targeting senior citizens in Woodland, Stockton, Bakersfield and other communities.
Joseph Nkunzi, 30, and Safia Ahmed, 37, were arrested in Washington on July 30. A magistrate judge detained them as flight risks and ordered them transported to Sacramento, according to a federal Department of Justice news release. They were charged today with eight counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.The indictment also alleges that the scheme involved telemarketing conduct that victimized individuals older than 55, which carries enhanced penalties, officials said.
According to court documents, on April 26, the Sacramento FBI received a referral from the Woodland Police Department regarding a 78-year-old victim of a telemarketing lottery scam. She had been called by a company, "North American Prize Pool," and told that she had won $8.8 million, but to receive the prize, she had to send $182,000 to various accounts. An investigation into those accounts led to Nkunzi,Ahmed and others involved in the scheme.
According to court documents, the defendants and others telephoned victims nationwide and told them they had won millions of dollars in a sweepstakes or lottery. The victims were told that they had to "pre-pay" taxes or insurance on the prize money before receiving it. They were directed to send checks to the defendants or deposit money into accounts that the defendants controlled.
The defendants allegedly established multiple shell bank accounts using false identity documents to receive the fraud proceeds, which they subsequently spent or forwarded to others involved in the scheme.
The case resulted from an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and several law enforcement agencies in Washington state.