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Man sentenced to prison in ‘heartbreakingly evil’ scam targeting elderly people in San Diego and beyond

A Los Angeles-area man who acted as a mule in a scam that swindled $2 million from elderly people across the country was sentenced Wednesday to nearly four years in prison, the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Defendant Jack Owuor, 25, pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court in March to a racketeering charge for his role in the scheme, federal prosecutors said in a news release. Commonly referred to as a “grandparent scam,” the victims — usually in their 70s or 80s — are tricked into sending money to help a relative or family in legal trouble. Often, the victims are told the money will help keep their loved one out of jail.

The eight defendants in this scheme — the type of scam that U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo called “heartbreakingly evil” in court Wednesday — were indicted in July 2021 in San Diego federal court.

Six have since pleaded guilty. Owuor was the first to be sentenced. The other two defendants — both Florida residents — remain at large.

According to prosecutors and court filings, more than 70 people across the country were swindled out of more than $2 million. That includes at least 10 victims in San Diego County who lost a total of more than $300,000.

In their sentencing brief, prosecutors said Owuor personally handled cash pick-ups from at least seven victims in California, and also recruited other mules. His defense attorney wrote in court documents that Owuor, a resident of Paramount, north of Long Beach, did not understand the depth of what he was involved in.

Aside from a 46-month prison sentence, Owuor was ordered to forfeit the $4,300 he personally made in the scam and pay restitution of $434,600.

The indictment alleges the local victims lived in areas throughout the region from Bonita to Oceanside. Among them was an 87-year-old woman who in May 2020 was tricked by a woman pretending to be her granddaughter, saying she needed $9,000 bail money after a serious car crash. The victim provided the money, and her granddaughter’s “attorney” warned the victim to stay mum because a judge had issued a “gag order.”

The next day, the fraudsters hit up the victim again, saying her granddaughter needed another $42,000 or she would face manslaughter charges and several years in prison. The victim was also told that if anyone asked about the large sum of money leaving her bank account, she was to say it was for a real estate investment.

A week later they were back, demanding another $57,000, saying she and her granddaughter had broken the “gag order.”

The bail-money request was an oft-repeated scam, with victim after victim paying up and keeping quiet in places from New York to Georgia to California from November 2019 to October 2020. The indictment does not indicate how the nationwide scam was uncovered, but the case was investigated by the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force.

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