LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- The Department of Justice announced that six Las Vegas residents were charged with running mass-mailing fraud scheme that falsely promised cash prizes.
Mario Castro, 51, Jose Salud Castro, 70, Salvador Castro, 53, Miguel Castro, 55, Jose Luis Mendez, 45, and Andrea Brown, 49, were charged in an indictment with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, the D.O.J. said. Salvador was also charged with making false statements to investigators.
Three co-conspirators, Patti Kern, Edgar Del Rio and Sean O'Connor, plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud earlier this year.
The indictment was secured by the Department's Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada.
The D.O.J. said five of the defendants were arrested Wednesday by U.S. Postal Inspectors. Jose Salud Castro turned himself in to authorities on Thursday morning.
According to the indictment, the defendants' scheme led many victims, most of whom were elderly, into believing that they could pay a small fee to claim a large cash prize. The fee was usually $20 or $30.
The indictment claims the defendants operated the scheme from 2010 to February 2018. The operation was shut down by postal investigators executed multiple search warrants and the D.O.J.'s court order to shutting down the fraudulent mail scheme.
Mario, Jose Salud, Salvador, Miguel and Jose Luis allegedly worked at the printing and mailing business that sent the fraudulent mail and shared the profits from the fraudulent prize notices, the D.O.J. said.
Andrea allegedly opened the victim return mail, sorted the cash and other payments, and entered data from the victims' responses into a database that the scheme used to target previous victims with more fraudulent mail, according to the indictment.
"The Department will pursue and prosecute those who defraud elderly or vulnerable consumers," said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the D.O.J.'s Civil Division. "We have alleged that these defendants perpetrated a cruel hoax on their victims and relentlessly targeted many with repeated fraudulent mailings."
The D.O.J. claims the defendants allegedly ignored several cease and desist orders from U.S. Postal Service that prohibited their mailing companies from sending fraudulent mail. The defendants would change the name of their company and use straw owners to hide their continuing fraud.
"It will be a priority of this office to dismantle organizations like this one that prey on the elderly and vulnerable," said U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich for the District of Nevada. "We will continue to investigate and prosecute these large-scale frauds that operate in Nevada and across the country."
Each of the mail fraud and conspiracy charges carry a statutory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, the D.O.J. said. The false statement charge Salvador is facing carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Each charge also carries a statutory maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or gross loss from the offense, according to the D.O.J.
"Many people who received these solicitations in the mail thought they were winners, but they were not. In fact, they were victims of scams exploiting the vulnerable," said Inspector in Charge Delany De Leon-Colon of U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group. "For many years, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has been at the forefront of protecting consumers from fraud. The consequences of this type of financial fraud scheme are far reaching and damaging. Anyone who engages in such conduct should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable."