(CN) – A Canadian man convicted of running a foreign lottery telemarketing scam targeting elderly Americans was sentenced in Los Angeles Monday to 9 years in federal prison. Some of the victims lost their homes. Henry Anekwu’s sentencing came nearly 7 years after he was indicted by a federal grand jury.
Anekwu was arrested in Canada in 2005, accused of running the scheme through his companies, Platinum Award and Capital Award, from 1998 to 2003.
His telemarketers urged elderly victims to borrow money against their homes to pay putative fees and taxes on nonexistent foreign lottery windfalls.
After a lengthy extradition process, he was brought to the United States in December 2009 to face multiple counts of mail fraud and wire fraud. Anekwu also was ordered to pay more than $510,000 in restitution.
Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto have been hotbeds for telemarketing scams for “quite a while,” assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lyndsay said in a telephone interview on Monday.
Lyndsay said that lighter sentences handed down by Canadian courts may encourage fraudsters to set up shop in Canada rather than the United States.
“I think there’s a different perception by the courts in Canada, and they don’t sentence perpetrators of this kind of crime very harshly at all,” Lyndsay said. “So there was kind of no deterrent to committing this kind of crime, because even if you stole millions and millions and millions of dollars, you just weren’t going to do any significant jail time at all, so it’s almost like a cost of doing business.”
While such scams are difficult to prosecute on both sides of the border, Lyndsay said, it’s particularly difficult in Canada because of the money needed to fly witnesses in from other parts of the country to testify.
“The system doesn’t make it easy to do it, and the rewards for doing it are not great,” she said.
She added that scams targeting the elderly are hard to deal with because by the time the cases get to trial, many of the victims are ill or dead, and some were already suffering from dementia when they were targeted.
The elderly are vulnerable to the scams, she said, because they come from a time when people didn’t “get on the phone and lie.”
“A lot of these are sweet old ladies that you’re dealing with, and they can’t imagine,” Lyndsay said. “They’re lonely and these guys call up and pretend to be their friend,”
U.S. District Judge John Walter said at the sentencing that it was “painful” to listen to the testimony of Anekwu’s victims – there were 79 of them. Several of them lost their homes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Anekwu was brought down by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Project Emptor task force, set up in 1998 to target international mass marketing fraud, whose members include the FBI, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the Canadian Competition Bureau and other consumer protection agencies.