Three men pleaded guilty to defrauding 14 Rhode Island seniors out of more than $350,000 in what authorities described Tuesday as a “Grandparent Scam.”
“Few things are more frightening than thinking a family member is in trouble,” U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said in a news release. “These defendants exploited that fear to steal from loving grandparents and line their own pockets.”
Bryan Valdez-Espinosa, 22, Diego A. Alarcon, 22, and Jason Hatcher, 40, appeared before a federal judge in Providence and admitted to participating in the scam, Cunha said.
Kara Hoopis Manosh, an attorney for Hatcher, and Kevin Fitzgerald, attorney representing Valdez-Espinosa, declined comment in separate emails to CNN.
Alarcon’s attorney, Melissa Larsen, told CNN her client “has accepted full responsibility for his role in this scheme, one of many which has victimized our venerable elder population.”
“He sincerely regrets his criminal acts and I’m confident he will live a law abiding life after serving what will likely be a lengthy sentence in a federal detention facility,” Larsen said in a written statement.
‘Fake bail payments’
The victims, whose ages ranged from 79 to 94, were contacted by people who impersonated family members or attorneys, according to the release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The callers “falsely told the victims that a loved one, generally a grandchild, had been arrested after being involved in a motor vehicle accident, and needed cash bail.” The victims were then directed by the callers to gather cash to give to a courier who would come to their home to retrieve it for “fake bail payments,” the release said.
The scammers defrauded the victims out of between $9,500 and $85,000, the release said.
In one case, a family member intervened, which lead police to Valdez-Espinosa, who was acting as a courier, the release said.
Valdez-Espinosa and Alarcon – both from Union City, New Jersey– along with Hatcher admitted that they traveled to New England to participate in the scam in June 2021, according to the prosecutors.
Hatcher, of New York City, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, while Alarcon and Valdez Espinosa pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The trio are slated to be sentenced October 11 after a federal judge determines their prison term.