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DV Pilot Police & Fire

ICE, NYPD: 'Money-Sucking' Crew With Bergen, Hudson Members Scammed Elderly 2X

U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey S. Berman
U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey S. Berman Photo Credit:

Ten people -- six of them from Bergen and Hudson counties -- were charged by federal authorities with convincing unwitting elderly victims to invest their money in various businesses, pushing them into debt, and then scamming them again with a bogus debt-relief program.

Those charged include two Hillsdale residents, identified as Joseph Ciaccio and Joseph Depaola, both 30; two Elmwood Park residents, identified as Derrek Larkin, 36, and Mattie Cirilo, 28; and one from Washington Township, Joseph Minetto, 32.

Also charged were Anthony Cheedie, 34, of Jersey City, two people from Arizona, another from Utah and one from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ciaccio also went by the name “Joseph Gallagher,” while Depaola used the alias “Joe Hall” and Larkin went by “Derrek Martin,” U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey S. Berman said.

All were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, he said, adding that Larkin and Cirilo were also charged with obstruction of justice.

From at least 2012 until at least November 2019, Berman said, members of the crew "carried out a wide-ranging telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of victims throughout the United States, many of whom were over age 70, by selling those victims so-called 'business services.' 

Some of the defendants and their co-conspirators sold “services” that would help make victims’ own businesses more efficient or profitable, including tax preparation or website design services -- despite the fact that "many victims were elderly and did not own a computer," the U.S. attorney said.

The victims received electronic or paper “pamphlets” or got “coaching sessions” but "at no point" did any of them actually earn any of the promised return on their intended investment, he said.

The defendants and their co-conspirators assembled lists of potential victims, many of whom had previously made an initial investment to create an online business with other participants in the scheme, Berman said. The names were initially generated by sales floors operating in, among other places, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, some of them operated by the conspirators, he said.

They coordinated the scheme with several telemarketing sales floors in New York and New Jersey -- including the use of what some of them referred to as the "money-sucking website," or MSW, Berman said.

Some victims were told that they'd qualified for a government grant, often in connection with starting a small business, and that they should buy the business services offered as part of the scheme as a way to earn money while waiting for the grant money to be received, the U.S. attorney said. 

"In truth and in fact, no such government grants existed," he said.

Once the victims had maxed out their credit cards, the defendants and their co-conspirators rolled the scam into a debt-relief scheme, offering to consolidate or settle the victims’ debt in exchange for an up-front payment, Berman said.

No debts were consolidated, he said.

Earlier this year, investigators searched the telemarketing sales floor where Larkin and Cirilo worked, seizing several electronic devices from both of them, the U.S. attorney said.

Following the search, Larkin and Cirilo “knowingly deleted, and attempted to delete, the data on those devices in an effort to prevent law enforcement from using that data in the investigation,” Berman said.

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations’ El Dorado Task Force worked with the NYPD to crack the case, which is being prosecuted by Berman’s office in the Southern District of New York.

“This criminal organization strategically gave false promises to continue their swindle and get as much money as possible while destroying the lives of their victims” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “These individuals are done making calls unless they are calling their lawyer.”

The El Dorado Task Force is headquartered at Fitzhugh’s office and at other locations in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area.

Task force agents “educate the private financial sector to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities and promote anti-money laundering legislation through training and other outreach programs,” Berman explained. “Prosecutors use a full range of criminal and civil laws to prosecute targets and forfeit the proceeds of their illicit activity.

“Since its inception, the task force has branched out to address all financial crimes -- evolving into the largest, most successful financial crimes task force in the world,” he added.


ALSO SEE: An oral surgeon who needlessly pulled teeth and exorbitant payments from patients in Passaic, Hudson, Union and Monmouth counties had his license yanked and was fined more than $500,000, state authorities announced Tuesday.


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