Fighting fraud works: Here are some scammer crooks who got caught

You might think that battling scammer crooks is often a fruitless endeavor — but you would be wrong. There are still plenty of fraudsters running amok, scamming and fleecing innocent victims of their money, but there are also quite a few who end up in the slammer for their crimes. Here are just a few scumbags who are now serving prison time for their nefarious deeds — mostly for scamming older Americans.

The Payment Processor Info Plunderer

Gareth David Long, Las Vegas

Gareth David Long, a British citizen, used a “fake goods” scam to fund his lavish millionaire lifestyle (one hobby, flying Russian fighter jets), and mostly targeting seniors.

Living in Las Vegas, the British ex-pat ran a third-party payment processing company called V Internet Corp from 2008 to 2013 which specialized in the creation and deposit of remotely created checks (RCCs). Here’s why you should use only trusted payment processing companies: Long had free access to the personal and financial information of his entire network of thousands of clients, and he plundered those accounts with impunity. As if that weren’t bad enough, Long also purchased lead lists of consumer information from other scammers and, of course, plundered those as well.

All told, Long accumulated more than $11 million by charging people, again mostly seniors, for goods and services they never purchased. Federal prosecutors reported that he ripped off the bank accounts of 375,000 unwary victims — the majority of them retirees.

Long, using his ill-gotten millions, bought a ranch in Texas (23 acres worth), three airplanes (pretty sure at least one of them was a Russian fighter jet), exotic cars and even a fire truck (yes, you read that correctly, a fire truck).

Fortunately the law caught up with him and in 2020 Long was sentenced to five years and eight months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service seized more than $2.9 million from Long’s company bank accounts, as were his cars and planes. Also, as part of the sentencing hearing, the court ordered Long to forfeit the $11.2 million and the land, including the ranch, in Texas.

Jody Hunt, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said: “The defendant exploited his access to sensitive personal and financial information to steal millions of dollars from victims throughout the United States.”

The Bogus Ponzi-style Investment Scammer

Antonio Carlos De Godoy Buzaneli, Key Biscayne, Florida

Worse than the junk bond debacle of the Eighties, this scheme targeted unsuspecting victims by promoting a completely bogus investment scheme. Antonio Carlos De Godoy Buzaneli promised huge (unrealistic) returns to his marks. Again, Buzaneli primarily sought retired seniors as his prey, draining almost the entirety of victims’ retirement funds.

Buzaneli and his cohorts then used a significant amount of investors’ funds to make Ponzi-style payments to other investors and to make commission payments to his nationwide network of brokers affiliated with his company, Providence Holdings International Inc. Investor funds were also diverted to other companies they controlled, including an import/export company, a travel company, a realty company, a credit rehabilitation company (oh, the irony!), and a catering company and food truck business operated by Buzaneli’s wife.

All together, investors lost more than $100 million, according to federal court records. Fortunately in 2019 the law caught up with this scumbag, and he was tried, with his crooked partners, in a Minneapolis, Minnesota court. Buzaneli, who entered a guilty plea, received a sentence of 20 years in federal prison. This case was the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI, United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau, along with assistance by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald stated, “Antonio Buzaneli was the primary architect of a $150 million Ponzi scheme that targeted hundreds of victims worldwide, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable. Some victims lost their retirement savings, others lost the ability to provide a college education to their children or grandchildren. For these egregious crimes, Mr. Buzaneli will spend the next 20 years behind bars. I applaud our law enforcement partners for their steadfast efforts in seeking justice for the victims.”

The Bogus Business and Investment Scammer

Jennifer Shah, Salt Lake City

Well, this was certainly a twist in a Real Housewives of… storyline. Jennifer Shah, cast member of the Bravo series, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, ran a lucrative Manhattan-based scam that targeted older Americans — all behind the scenes during the filming of the show apparently.

For at least a decade Shah was the primary principal of a wide-ranging, nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that sold its victims bogus business services and tricked those victims into non-existent investments, according to prosecutors. Shah bilked her victims for millions and had made plans to move her operations to Kosovo to avoid prosecution.

According to the website of the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York:

From at least 2012 until her arrest in March 2021, Shah was an integral leader of a wide-ranging, nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that victimized thousands of innocent people. The scheme principally involved selling those victims so-called “business services” in connection with the victims’ purported online businesses (the “Business Opportunity Scheme”). In particular, Shah knowingly and intentionally facilitated the sale of “leads” — contact information for potential victims who had been identified as susceptible to the scheme’s lies — to sales floors that were perpetrating the Business Opportunity Scheme and, during the latter portion of her participation in the scheme, owned and operated one of the sales floors that was part of the scheme.

Many of Shah’s victims were elderly or vulnerable. Many of those people suffered significant financial hardship and damage. At Shah’s direction, victims were defrauded over and over again until they had nothing left. She and her co-conspirators persisted in their conduct until the victims’ bank accounts were empty, their credit cards were at their limits, and there was nothing more to take.

Shah was not deterred by the Federal Trade Commission’s investigations or enforcement actions, nor by learning that dozens of her co-conspirators had been arrested by federal law enforcement, pled guilty for their roles in the scheme, and that two were convicted at trial.  Shah was not ignorant of these developments: she took a series of increasingly extravagant steps to conceal her criminal conduct from the authorities.  She directed others to lie, she put businesses and bank accounts in the name of others, she required payment in cash, she instructed others to delete text messages and electronic documents, she moved some of her operations overseas, and she tried to put computers and other evidence beyond the reach of investigators. These efforts were not short-lived or narrow in scope. She engaged in a years long, comprehensive effort to hide her continued role in the scheme.

Jennifer Shah never got to establish that Kosovo operation because the law nabbed her just in time. In 2022, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison. In addition to the prison term Shah was sentenced to five years of supervised release. She was also ordered to forfeit $6,500,000, 30 luxury items, and 78 counterfeit luxury items, and to pay $6,645,251 in restitution.


The Romance (Catfish) Scammer

Dominique Golden, Houston

Probably one of the cruelest of scams, the romance scam. Dominique Golden of Houston, Texas exploited this vulnerability to the tune of $2.6 million after heartlessly bilking her victims. She personally collected nearly $1.3 million in cash, checks, money orders, and wire transfers from people all across the United States. Golden deposited the monies into bank accounts opened under the names of fake people and businesses that she controlled, according to U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha.

Golden’s modus operandi was to target older Americans by pretending to be a potential love interest on various online dating sites. Court records revealed that one woman, a 76-year-old widow in Rhode Island, sent more than $660,000 to Golden’s group of scammers after ‘meeting’ someone online whom she was led to believe was a U.S. Army general serving in Afghanistan. The unsuspecting widow refinanced her her home and sold property in Massachusetts in order to send money to the fake general.

Ultimately, Golden’s alleged accomplices cultivated relationships via internet and app-based communication platforms, convincing their victims that the posers were in dire need of money. Golden was fully aware that other members of her nefarious cadre had contacted victims for the sole purpose of perpetrating the scam.

Again, the law caught up with this romance scammer. Golden went before a Providence, Rhode Island court and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in 2023. Under a plea agreement, Golden would forfeit assets derived from her criminal conduct, including two luxury cars, three handguns, three Rolex watches, and a 24-inch (61-centimeter) gold chain as well as other jewelry.

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