Southern Utah case part of nation’s largest elder fraud sweep in history

Stock image of elderly woman | Photo by Kasto 80/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah announced the largest-ever sweep of elder fraud cases in U.S. history, which included the Powell fraud ring case in Washington County.

This year, the Department of Justice prosecuted more than 400 defendants whose schemes bilked senior citizens out of more than $1 billion dollars — up from the 260 defendants charged during last year’s sweep, according to an announcement by U.S. Attorney John W. Huber and the Department of Justice last week.

All told, the losses suffered by these vulnerable adults exceeded $1 billion dollars.

The sweep also focused on foreign-based fraud schemes that have targeted a vast number of older adults. Barr also announced that preventing and disrupting transnational elder fraud is now one of the top priorities for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” Barr said in the statement.

Four cases involving 20 defendants were indicted in Utah for schemes that allegedly bilked seniors out of more than $200 million across the beehive state.

U.S. vs. Powell

One of the cases featured in the announcement, U.S. vs. Powell, was investigated in Washington County and involves eight individuals who were indicted in federal court in connection with an alleged fraud ring. The ring was exposed after police received reports that a 90-year-old woman was being exploited in October of last year. The defendants allegedly bilked the woman out of more than $300,000 in cash, checks and real property.

The case was taken over by federal prosecutors who outlined the complicated scheme in court documents.

Frank Gene Powell, 50, of Washington County, booking photo taken at San Joachin County Jail, French Camp, Calif., Oct. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the San Joachin County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The case involves ringleader Frank Gene Powell, 51; his mother, Gloria Gene Powell; and his girlfriend, Faye Renteria. Also indicted were family members Terrence Quincy Powell and Martell Taz Powell, along with associates Bubby Mern Shepherd, Rocky James Mott and Angela McDuffie.

The charges allege the defendants, who have family relationships, conspired to obtain money and assets from the victim in exchange for false promises to perform work on her property.

To further advance the scheme, Frank Powell engaged in romance fraud by enticing the victim to enter into a romantic relationship. The charges allege he used the romantic relationship to manipulate the victim into giving him money and assets.

Frank Powell and Faye Renteria were initially indicted in November as federal prosecutors continued to build the case until January when prosecutors filed a superseding indictment that included all eight defendants who face a total of 37 charges between them.

The transactions were discovered by a family member of the elderly woman who was helping her reconcile her bank statements.

The defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler last month when protective orders would be filed in the case to prevent the defendants from reaching out to the elderly victim or her family, any witnesses or targets, or from having any contact with each other. The defendants are being held without bail pending trial.

The case is scheduled for a two-week trial starting April 7 in U.S. District Court in St. George.

U.S. vs. Fairbanks

A similar case involves a Logan man, Thomas Fairbanks, who was charged with wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering involving a  fraudulent investment scheme as outlined in the indictment.

As a part of the scheme, the defendant allegedly gained the trust of a vulnerable adult and diverted more than $460,,000 of the woman’s money to be used for the suspect’s personal use.

The case is scheduled for trial June 8.

U.S. vs. Rust

In another Utah case, U.S. vs. Rust, the alleged scheme, which continued for more than two decades, involved a number of defendants who allegedly sold investments to at least 500 individuals scattered across the country by promising high-interest returns through the buying, selling and trading of silver. Nearly half of those targeted were retirees aged 60, on average, who spent their retirement funds on the scam investment. One senior targeted by the group was 94 years old, according to the indictment.

Stock image by Pixabay, St. George News

“In reality, besides making about $150 million in Ponzi payments, investor funds were used to support the Rust’s lifestyle,” Huber said in the statement.

In the scheme, fraudsters encouraged individuals to pull funds from their home equity, IRA, 401K or other retirement savings accounts, or liquidate other securities to invest as much as they could to the scheme “for optimum success,” the statement said.

Instead of success, however, the seniors lost to a group of scammers that collected more than $193 million within the last five years alone.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in May.

Two federal agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, and the Department of Justice’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force were credited with many of the ongoing elder fraud cases included in the sweep.

“The Department is committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also announced the launch of the National Elder Fraud Hotline to assist the elderly who have been victimized by scammers. The Hotline’s toll-free number is 833-FRAUD-11. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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