A Florida criminal who acted as a fake bail bondsman in a conspiracy to fleece elderly people in Pennsylvania and several southern states of $158,000 has been sentenced to three years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan last week imposed that term on Adrian Orozco Perez, 26, of Kissimmee, Fla., who had pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering following an investigation of the “grandparent scam” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Perez was not the organizer of the scheme but a courier sent to pick up money from the victims.
But prosecutors said that doesn’t give him a pass on prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Bengel said he knew full well what the scam was about — stealing from old people by scaring them about their grandchildren’s fake legal problems — and he should be punished appropriately.
Perez and his lawyer argued that he has no prior criminal record and deserves leniency, but Bengel said he preyed on the vulnerable.
“While the government concedes that Orozco Perez may not have known every detail of the fraud, he knew that he was engaged in a fraud,” he said in sentencing papers.
Perez and his criminal associates targeted the elderly in Pittsburgh, the Harrisburg area, Tennessee and Georgia.
Scammers told the victims that their grandchildren were being held by law officers and needed cash to make bail. Perez’s job was to go pick up the cash from the victims at their houses by posing as a bail bondsman.
Typically one of the scammers initially posed as a lawyer in making the calls. Sometimes, a fraudster even impersonated a supposedly jailed grandchild in asking for cash. One of the criminals would also say a judge had imposed a gag order on the case so the victim wouldn’t talk about it to anyone.
The criminals told the marks to withdraw money from their banks and then lie to anyone at the bank who might ask why they were making withdrawals. Fraudsters then said a bondsman — Perez was one of several — would come to the house to get the money.
Some victims knew it was a scam. But some fell for it. If someone gave up money, the criminal gang called back to ask for more money for various fees and the like associated with the fake case.
Perez was a busy man.
In February 2022 alone, he drove to Georgia, the Pittsburgh region, the Harrisburg region, Tennessee and back to Georgia to collect money. Court records show he collected from 11 victims for as much as $20,000 each.
Perez was initially arrested in the case in Georgia. He had $18,000 in stolen money on him. He was later indicted in Pittsburgh.
In addition to his jail term, the judge ordered him to pay $158,000 in restitution.