Four residents of Lima, Peru, charged with overseeing a series of call centers that threatened and extorted Spanish-speaking victims in the United States, have been sentenced to prison, according to the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Jesus Gutierrez Rojas, 37, Alexandra Podesta Bengoa, 38, Virgilio Polo Davila, 43, and Omar Portocarrero Caceres, 39, were extradited from Peru in April. Each pleaded guilty to extortion and has now been sentenced to prison by U.S. District Court Judge Roy Altman in Fort Lauderdale. As part of his guilty plea, Gutierrez admitted that he oversaw a series of affiliated call centers in Peru that falsely told Spanish-speaking victims across the United States that they had incurred debts and would suffer various consequences for failure to pay off the debts that they did not, in fact, owe. As part of their guilty pleas, Podesta, Polo, and Portocarrero admitted that they managed and supervised three of these affiliated call centers that used extortion to obtain money from vulnerable U.S. consumers.
Yesterday, Judge Altman sentenced Gutierrez to 51 months in federal prison for his role overseeing the affiliated call centers and sentenced Podesta and Polo to 46 months imprisonment. Judge Altman sentenced Portocarrero to 46 months in federal prison on July 24. Each defendant was also ordered to serve three years’ supervised release following their terms of incarceration and to make restitution payments to the victims of their scheme.
“The Department of Justice is committed to identifying and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target and extort U.S. consumers,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
As part of their guilty pleas, Podesta, Polo, and Portocarrero each admitted that their Peruvian call centers contacted U.S. consumers, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, using Internet-based calls. Falsely claiming to be attorneys and government representatives, Podesta, Polo, Portocarrero, and their employees falsely told victims that they failed to pay for or receive a delivery of products and threatened them into paying fraudulent settlements for nonexistent debts. The callers falsely threatened victims with lawsuits, negative marks on their credit reports, imprisonment, or immigration consequences if they did not immediately pay for the purportedly delivered products and “settlement fees.” Many victims made monetary payments based on these baseless extortionate threats.
Gutierrez was the general manager of a larger company where he worked in partnership with Podesta, Polo, Portocarrer, and others to facilitate their extortion scheme. The defendants’ associates in Miami collected the payments from thousands of victims across the U.S.
“The reach of our U.S. justice system is long,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan. “The sentences imposed demonstrate that we are committed to prosecuting those individuals who threaten U.S. consumers no matter where they are located.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to aggressively pursue and bring to justice international criminal enterprises that prey on our most vulnerable citizens by fraudulently using the U.S. Mail to further their schemes,” said Acting Miami Division Postal Inspector in Charge Lesley Allison.
At Portocarrero’s July 24 sentencing, Judge Altman said that the brazen, large-scale nature of the defendants’ scheme was “shocking.” Judge Altman noted that the defendants exploited “the most vulnerable people in our country” and said that their offense conduct was “terribly disgraceful.”
All five defendants who have been charged in connection with this large-scale extortion scheme have been sentenced to prison.