Sweepstakes Schemers Fresh Out of Luck

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A North Carolina couple has pleaded guilty for leading a Costa Rican sweepstakes fraud scheme that defrauded hundreds of elderly Americans.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of the western district of North Carolina made the announcement.

Jessica Anne Brown, 39, of Greensboro, North Carolina, pleaded in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her husband, Jason Dean Brown, 41, formerly of Burleson, Texas, pleaded guilty on July 30, 2014. The Browns pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to the plea agreement, from November 2004 through March 2013, Jessica and Jason Brown owned, operated and worked in sweepstakes call centers in Costa Rica. The Browns and their co-conspirators placed telephone calls to U.S. residents, many of whom were elderly, and falsely informed them that they had won a substantial cash prize in a sweepstakes. The victims were told that in order to receive the prize, they had to send money to Costa Rica for a purported refundable insurance fee.

After receiving the fee, the Browns and their co-conspirators contacted the victims again, and falsely informed them that the prize amount had increased, either because of a clerical error or because another prize winner was disqualified, and therefore the victims had to send additional money to pay for new purported fees, duties and insurance to receive the now larger sweepstakes prize. The attempts to collect additional money from the victims continued until a victim either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme. To mask that they were calling from Costa Rica, the Browns and their co-conspirators utilized VoIP phones that displayed a (202) area code, giving victims the false impression that the calls were coming from Washington, D.C. The Browns often falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency, to lure victims into a false sense of security.

The defendants admitted that, along with their co-conspirators, they were responsible for causing more than $840,000 in losses to hundreds of U.S. citizens.

Jason and Jessica Brown were indicted by a federal grand jury on Nov. 15, 2012.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Miami Office.

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