Crime - Sacto 911

Man sentenced to prison following scam probe triggered by Woodland victim

A Washington man has been sentenced in federal court in Sacramento to more than four years in prison for his role in a telemarketing scam that targeted senior citizens in Woodland, Stockton and other California communities.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on Wednesday sentenced Joseph Nkunzi, 31, of Des Moines, Wash., to four years and three months in prison for his involvement in a scheme that defrauded senior citizens of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

Court documents indicate that beginning in 2011, Nkunzi and others operated a scheme that involved calling senior citizens and telling them they had won a prize. They were told that, to receive the prize, they first needed to pay taxes and fees. The victims either mailed checks to Nkunzi or directly deposited checks into bank accounts that he established and controlled.

The case first came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April 2013, when the agency received a referral from the Woodland Police Department 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 first she had to send $182,000 to various accounts to pay for taxes and fees.

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

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

The case resulted from an investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the Woodland Police Department.

Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.