WASHINGTON, USA -- On Wednesday, 21 citizens of the Dominican Republic have been charged with conspiring to impersonate United States law enforcement officers, extortion, and wire fraud. Beginning two weeks ago, authorities in the Dominican Republic, acting on requests from the United States, located and arrested 17 of the defendants in the Dominican Republic, who are now awaiting extradition proceedings in that country. Four defendants remain at-large.
The defendants are alleged to have engaged in a scheme to extort money from individuals located in the United States by posing as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents or other representatives of the United States government. The defendants targeted individuals who they believed had illicitly purchased prescription pharmaceuticals through call centers located in the Dominican Republic.
As part of the defendants’ scheme, a member of the conspiracy would call a victim located in the United States and identify himself or herself as a DEA agent or representative of another United States agency. The victim would then be told that he or she was under investigation for illegally purchasing prescription drugs, and that the only way to avoid arrest and jail would be to pay a “fine” or some other fee to the DEA.
In total, the defendants and others who participated in this scheme and copy-cat schemes demanded at least $3.5 million, and received at least $880,000, in extortionate payments from victims in the United States.
“These alleged criminals not only bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting Americans but they also called into question the integrity and honor of the DEA and all law enforcement,” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart said. "The DEA, with the assistance of our Dominican Republic counterparts, have worked diligently to identify, target and, ultimately, dismantle this group of alleged scam artists. We urge anyone who receives a similar threatening phone call to hang up and contact local or federal law enforcement immediately.”
United States Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York said: “These defendants generated untold millions of dollars in illicit profits by posing as DEA agents or other US law enforcement officers. They carried out the internet or telephone equivalent of displaying phony badges to rip off their victims. In the process, the defendants assaulted the good name of the DEA. We commend the DEA for putting a stop to this criminal charade.”
Each of the defendants has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, each of which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Each of the defendants has also been charged with one count of conspiracy to impersonate a United States law enforcement officer, which carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.