A 25-year-old California man was sentenced to almost four years in prison on Wednesday for his involvement in a "grandparent scam" criminal ring that defrauded more than 70 older people out of more than $2 million.
Jack Owuor, who pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, was sentenced to 46 months in prison.
He and seven others were first charged in August 2021 in connection with the multistate scheme.
Per the indictment against Owuor and his codefendants, they would call up people in their 70s or 80s and ask for money, typically under the guise of helping their grandchildren out of legal trouble. Owuor admitted to picking up cash from at least six people.
"Today’s sentence, including prison time, demonstrates the gravity of the defendant’s egregious behavior to steal from the elders of our community,” Randy Grossman, US attorney for the southern district of California, said in a statement. “It is despicable that these fraudsters preyed on a grandparent’s care and concern for their loved ones to line their own pockets."
In one case, a 77-year-old man from Pasadena, California, received a call from someone who claimed his grandson had been arrested following a car crash and needed $23,700 for bail money. Owuor then impersonated a man named "James Taylor," whom the older man was told would arrive in person to pick up the money.
In three incidents on March 25, 2020, involving an 89-year-old woman, a 77-year-old woman, and a 76-year-old woman, Owuor was instructed to arrive at their homes under a false identity and show each of the victims a file number they had each been given to help release loved ones from jail. He collected $33,500 in total from the trio.
Owuor's defense attorneys had asked for a maximum sentence of 28 months in custody, arguing he didn't fully understand the scope of the scheme and had merely been acting as a go-between who picked up the cash.
They said he had participated in the scam, for which he was paid $500 per pickup, because he was experiencing homelessness at the time, even though his "gut told him what he was doing was wrong."
Owuor's attorneys maintained he did not know what the victims were told about their loved ones but conceded he did notice all of them were older people who believed he was someone else.
The DOJ runs an Elder Justice Initiative to coordinate federal efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial fraud. Officials say millions of older Americans are targeted each year by fraudsters, who may also be running romance or lottery scams.
Owuor is the first of his codefendants to be sentenced.
“Owuor and the criminal enterprise he was a part of preyed upon our elderly population, defrauding some of our most vulnerable and often most trusting citizens,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said in a statement.
"This coordinated response is paramount to addressing elder fraud and the task force will continue to aggressively investigate those who operate these criminal enterprises and seek justice for the elderly victims they intend to exploit," Moy added.