A U.S. citizen who resided in Costa Rica pleaded guilty on Friday, April 5, 2019, for his role in a “sweepstakes fraud” scheme that defrauded hundreds of U.S. residents, many of them elderly.
Thomas Sniffen, 58, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler of the Western District of North Carolina to all 31 counts of an indictment charging one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud, 13 counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering and 14 counts of international money laundering.
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Sniffen was charged by indictment in September 2015 and was extradited from Costa Rica in July 2017.
As part of his guilty plea, Sniffen admitted that he worked for a call center in Costa Rica between September 2010 and May 2014, placing placed telephone calls to U.S. victims, falsely informing those victims that they had won a substantial cash prize in a “sweepstakes.”
The victims, many of whom were elderly, were told that in order to receive the prize, they had to pay for a purported “refundable insurance fee,” Sniffen admitted.
Sniffen knew that certain factual assertions that he and his co-conspirators made in their pitches to victims were false, he admitted. He also admitted that he and his co-conspirators kept the victims’ funds; never provided any prizes to victims; and used the victims’ funds to continue operating the call center for his and his co-conspirators’ benefit.
Once Sniffen and his co-conspirators received the victims’ money, they allegedly contacted the victims again to tell them that they had to send additional money to pay for new purported fees, duties and insurance to receive the now larger sweepstakes prize.
Sniffen and his co-conspirators allegedly continued their attempts to collect additional money from victims until those victims either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme.