Northborough man pleads guilty to aiding romance and lottery schemes targeting elderly

 

Date: December 17, 2020

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

BOSTON — A Northborough man pleaded guilty today in federal court in Worcester to his role in more than $600,000 in fraud schemes targeting elderly victims and agreeing to launder the proceeds of such schemes and other criminal activity.

Austin Nedved pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman scheduled sentencing for April 7, 2020. Nedved is in custody serving a sentence for a separate fraud conviction in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Nedved admitted that he ran a business in which he bought and sold digital currencies, including Bitcoin, for cash. Nedved advertised his services under the screen name "USMC1991" over LocalBitcoins.com and Paxful.com, two online businesses that matched Bitcoin buyers and sellers and facilitated their transactions.

From at least 2017 through 2019, Nedved aided and abetted romance and lottery schemes targeting vulnerable victims. In romance schemes, victims are targeted to send money abroad to people they believe to be romantic interests, while in lottery schemes victims are convinced that they can obtain lottery winnings or sizeable government grants by forwarding cash for administrative fees or expenses to the fraudsters. Despite knowing or being willfully blind to the fact that his customers were fraud victims, Nedved sold Bitcoin to them so that they could send money overseas to the fraudsters.

In late 2017, an individual posing as "Jonathan G." led a 78-year old victim to believe over social media that he was a Weston, Mass. businessman who owned an oil company. Without ever meeting "Jonathan G." in person, the victim fell in love and agreed to marry him. "Jonathan G." then falsely told the victim that his oil company had experienced an accident abroad in which people had died, and that he needed money to settle obligations arising from the accident with a foreign government. "Jonathan G." claimed that until he did so, he would not be able to return to the United States to marry the victim. "Jonathan G." told the victim to pay him via Bitcoin. The victim, who had never before purchased digital currency, agreed to send him money and contacted Nedved by phone and text message in Massachusetts to arrange a cash-for-Bitcoin transaction.

On June 25, 2018, in a parking lot in Kittery, Maine, the victim gave Nedved a cashier's check to purchase approximately $100,000 in bitcoin. Nedved then released approximately $100,000 in Bitcoin, less his commission, to a Bitcoin wallet controlled by "Jonathan G." When Nedved accepted $100,000 from the victim, Nedved knew or was willfully blind to the fact that the victim was a romance scam victim. On June 29, 2018, in Leominster, Nedved and a co-conspirator took another $40,000 from the victim.

In total, Nedved and co-conspirators, in exchange for payment, converted to Bitcoin more than $630,000 in cash that they received from others, knowing that the cash constituted proceeds of romance and lottery scams and other unlawful activities. They then either returned the proceeds in Bitcoin to the source of the cash or forwarded the Bitcoin proceeds to unidentified third parties.

The charges of aiding and abetting wire fraud provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of money laundering conspiracy provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the value of the funds involved in the financial transactions that were the object of conspiracy. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Joleen Simpson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth B. Kosto, Deputy Chief of Lelling's Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit, is prosecuting the case.