Crime - Sacto 911

Washington man pleads guilty to telemarketing scam that targeted California seniors

A man from Washington state has pleaded guilty in federal court in Sacramento to his role in a telemarketing scheme that officials say defrauded senior citizens out of thousands of dollars.

Joseph Nkunzi, 31, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a telemarketing scam that tricked people into sending him money to receive cash prizes, according to a federal Department of Justice news release.

According to court documents, Nkunzi began working with others in 2011 to defraud senior citizens. The FBI received a referral from the Woodland Police Department in April 2013 regarding a 78-year-old victim of the scam. She had been called by “North American Prize Pool” and told that she had won $8.8 million, but to receive the prize, she had to send $182,000 to various accounts to pay for taxes and fees.

During the course of the scheme, the victims either mailed checks to Nkunzi or directly deposited checks into bank accounts that he established and controlled, officials said. Nkunzi subsequently withdrew the money or transferred it to other accounts.

When federal agents searched Nkunzi’s home in Washington, they seized a Maserati and a Lexus.

Authorities said the scam targeted victims throughout California, including residents of Woodland, Stockton, Bakersfield and Dinuba. In all, the victims lost approximately $850,000 to the scam.

Nkunzi is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on Nov. 19.

The case resulted from an investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.