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Two men sentenced to prison for participating in nationwide grandparent scam

Timothy Ingram of North Hollywood, California, and Joaquin Lopez of Hollywood, Florida, were sentenced in federal court to significant prison terms – nine years and two years in prison, respectively – for their roles in a large-scale criminal enterprise that engaged in extortion and fraud to swindle about $2 million from more than 70 elderly victims across the nation. Ten elderly victims who resided in San Diego County lost over $300,000 to the fraud.

From November 1, 2019, until October 14, 2020, the members of the criminal enterprise targeted elderly Americans, contacting them by phone and feeding them phony stories that their grandchildren were in legal trouble and needed money to cover bail, pay medical expenses for car accident victims, or prevent additional charges from being filed. Members of the conspiracy and their associates obtained money from victims through in-person cash pick-ups, mail or commercial carriers, or wire transfers. Conspirators laundered the proceeds by transferring the funds or converting from fiat currency to cryptocurrency.

According to court documents, Timothy Ingram’s participation in the conspiracy was lengthy and substantial. For nearly a year, he ran a network of money mules who conducted cash pick-ups and received wire transfers from victims who believed they were sending money to help a grandchild or other close relative or friend. Ingram provided the mules with details about the victims, including addresses and names. He coordinated cash pick-ups by his mule network through encrypted messages, instructing the mules on when to approach the victims’ doors, what fake name and occupation to tell the victims, and where to deliver the cash proceeds.

Ingram organized the criminal activity of at least five other participants in California, including co-defendants Anajah Gifford and Jack Owuor. Although most of Ingram’s activity occurred in California, at times, he directed mules to travel out of state to execute the same scheme elsewhere. He also recruited mules to receive wire transfers of victim funds into their bank accounts and provided extensive instruction and supervision over how to withdraw the funds to avoid getting caught. On at least one occasion, Ingram conducted a cash pick-up himself, collecting $42,000 in person from a 76-year-old victim in Burbank, California. In addition to being sentenced to serve 108 months in custody, Ingram was ordered to forfeit $124,700 in proceeds that he personally received from the offense, and to pay $1,932,507.93 to the victims in restitution. Three California victims spoke at the sentencing hearing.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo described the scheme as long term, sophisticated, and one of the most evil manipulations she has ever encountered in her 17 years on the bench. The judge commented that the defendant stole not only the financial security of the victims but exploited their fear and trust.

As part of his plea agreement, defendant Joaquin Lopez admitted that he used bank accounts under his control to funnel victim proceeds for co-defendant Tracy Knowles. Lopez, a resident of Florida, was involved in the scheme from February 2020 until October 2020. His participation in the conspiracy was crucial: In exchange for a 20 percent cut, Lopez made bank accounts available to other scheme participants to receive wire transfers from victims and to disperse those proceeds. As part of his sentence, Lopez was ordered to forfeit $62,700 in proceeds he personally received from the offense. In sentencing Lopez, the judge said that one cannot go through life blindly laundering money for criminals without having consequences.

This case was investigated by the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, which is a collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the District Attorney’s Office and all San Diego County law enforcement agencies. The Elder Justice Task Force was established in February 2021 and is believed to be the first comprehensive law enforcement effort for this purpose anywhere in the country. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch.

“These defendants were crucial members of a sophisticated criminal organization that shamelessly exploited the grandparents’ love for their grandchildren,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The long-lasting effects of this crime on our seniors and the community cannot be overstated. The victims were financially and emotionally devastated by callous people who thought only of enriching themselves. With the convictions and sentences imposed today, the government is securing justice for the victims who fell prey to this heartless crime.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigators for their excellent work on this case.

“Today’s sentencing of two key members of the criminal enterprise targeting our elderly population is a testament to the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force’s continued commitment to bringing fraudsters to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “It is the FBI’s mission to protect the American people and protecting our seniors from financial crimes is imperative to the well-being and safeguarding of our communities. The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, will not stop until all the defendants are held accountable for their involvement in this complex organized crime.”

As of today, six of the eight defendants charged in the case have pleaded guilty. Two defendants are fugitives and remain at large.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 22cr2216-CAB                                       

Tracy Adrine Knowles                                   30        Orlando, Florida

Fugitive                                                        

Adonis Alexis Butler Wong                           30        Northbay Village, Florida

Fugitive

Timothy Ingram, aka Bleezy                          30        North Hollywood, California

Sentenced today to 108 months in prison                                                                                               

Anajah Gifford                                                24        North Hollywood, California

In custody.  Sentencing set for November 17, 2022

Lyda Harris                                                     74        Laveen, Arizona

Released on bond. Sentencing set for November 17, 2022

Joaquin Lopez                                                 46        Hollywood, Florida

Sentenced today to 24 months in prison

Jack Owuor                                                     25        Paramount, California                                           

Sentenced on August 17, 2022 to 46 months in prison

Tracy Glinton                                                 35        Orlando, Florida

Released on bond. Sentencing set for November 17, 2022

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 1962(d) – Conspiracy to Conduct or Participate in an Enterprise

Through a Pattern of Racketeering Activity

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and a fine of not more than the greater of twice the amount of gain or loss associated with the offense or $250,000

AGENCY

Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch

San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, which includes:

San Diego FBI

San Diego County District Attorney’s Office

San Diego Police Department

San Diego Sheriff’s Department

Carlsbad Police Department

Oceanside Police Department

Escondido Police Department

Chula Vista Police Department

El Cajon Police Department

La Mesa Police Department

National City Police Department

Coronado Police Department

This article was released by the U.S. Department of Justice.