Crime

The $250,000 phone scam out of Peru on U.S. residents included threats of deportation

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The voices on the phone calls to Spanish-speaking U.S. residents claimed to be lawyers with the government, courts or credit bureaus. They threatened consequences, sometimes deportation, if the residents didn’t send money to pay for products the voices said the residents ordered.

But the phone calls were from call centers in Peru. And the money residents got scared into sending went to bank accounts of, among others, Miami company Fonomundo.

That’s the scheme alleged in the indictment of four people extradited from Peru to Miami, where they appeared in federal court last week to answer the charges from December 2016. That’s also the scheme described in the guilty plea of the scheme’s boss, who has already done prison time.

Jesus Gutierrez Rojas, 37; Maria de Guadalupe Alexandra Podesta Bengoa, 38; Virgilio Polo Davila, 43; and Omar Portocarrero Caceres, 39, haven’t been gallivanting about Peru. They’ve been in a Peruvian jail since cops there arrested them in late 2017 based on the indictment that charges them with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; mail fraud; wire fraud; and extortion.

Federal prosecutors made that indictment with a foundation partially laid by Cesar Luis Kou Reyna’s 2015 guilty plea to one count of conspiraty to commit mail and wire fraud. Kou Reyna, now 44, got sentenced in December of that year and was released last September.

Kou Reyna’s admission of facts names him as the owner of Fonomundo FC, the company behind the scam. Jonathan Kou Reyna, now 36, registered the company with the state of Florida in 2010 and remained its only officer until October 2018. That’s when Fiorella Gutierrez changed the registered name of the company to Logistics SD and the address to 2222 Brickell Ave., apartment No. 3.

A computer-synthesized voice claiming to be an FBI agent with a warrant for your arrest is just one of the telephone scams police have warned about recently.

According to one online database, that was Cesar Kou Reyna’s January address.

Here’s how the scheme worked from 2012 through 2015, according to Cesar Kou Reyna’s admission:

“Fonomundo used phone rooms in Peru to cold call Spanish-speaking consumers in the United States,” the court document said. “In addition to conducting large cold calling campaigns, Fonomundo partnered with affiliated call centers...to further a scheme to defraud and extort money wherein the victims were falsely told that they had failed to accept and pay for products they had never ordered.

“Hundreds of Spanish-speaking victims were coerced into making payments to Fonomundo after receiving bogus calls and threats from individuals at these network call centers that were affiliated with Fonomundo.”

Callers, sometimes claiming to be from a U.S. “legal department,” told victims they hadn’t paid for goods they’d bought and would be sued for the costs, as well as fines. Unless, that is, the victims avoided court by paying settlement fees.

“In response to victims who objected to making payments because they had never ordered, let alone failed to accept delivery of, any products,” the admission said, “the network co-conspirators, at times, threatened those victims with negative marks on their credit reports, deportation and other immigration consequences, arrest, and imprisonment.”

Using the phones was the wire fraud. The insurance Kou Reyna tried to create against credit card chargebacks counted as mail fraud. They’d send a package via U.S. Postal Service.

“To defend against chargebacks, (Kou Reyna) and his co-conspirators told victim credit card companies that the shipping records proved Fonomundo sent consumers packages the victims agreed to receive,” the admission said.

Kou Reyna said the scheme coerced hundreds of victims into giving up over $250,000.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.

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