U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California
(916) 554-2700
September 2, 2014

Washington Man Pleads Guilty in Telemarketing Fraud Scam Targeting Elderly Citizens

SACRAMENTO, CA—Joseph Nkunzi, 31, of Des Moines, Washington, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a telemarketing scam that tricked people into sending him money in order to receive cash prizes, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, beginning in 2011, Nkunzi worked with others to defraud senior citizens of thousands of dollars in a telemarketing scheme. The FBI received a referral from the Woodland Police Department in April 2013, regarding a 78-year-old victim of the scam. She had been called by “North American Prize Pool” and told that she had won $8.8 million, but in order to receive the prize, she had to send $182,000 to various accounts to pay for taxes and fees.

During the course of the scheme, the victims would either mail checks to Nkunzi or would directly deposit checks into bank accounts that he established and controlled. Nkunzi subsequently withdrew the money or transferred it to other accounts. When federal agents searched Nkunzi’s home in Washington, they seized a Maserati and a Lexus. The scam targeted victims throughout California, including residents of Woodland, Stockton, Bakersfield, and Dinuba. In total, the victims lost approximately $850,000 to the scam.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Michele Beckwith is prosecuting the case.

Nkunzi is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on November 19, 2014. The plea agreement contemplates a sentence of four years and three months in prison. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court at the sentencing hearing.

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