LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities arrested an Orange County man Tuesday and accused him of bilking elderly people out of $70,000 with false claims that he represented nationally known publishers' sweepstakes.
Gary Maddux, 36, of Santa Ana Heights was charged with one count of wire fraud at a federal court hearing in Los Angeles. He was held without bail pending his arraignment Dec. 15.
Papers filed in the case allege that Maddux engaged in a broad scheme to dupe senior citizens into sending him money to pay for "taxes, license and registration" for awards they allegedly won from American Family Publishers or from Publishers Clearing House.
Maddux even told potential victims that personalities Ed McMahon and Dick Clark were listening in on their conversation, which was being taped. He would seek addresses, saying Clark was on his way to deliver the winning checks, according to an affidavit by Scott A. Akina, an FBI special agent.
Maddux picked up at least $70,000 from more than a dozen elderly persons throughout the nation, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Ellyn M. Lindsay.
His lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Maddux's arrest is the result of the ongoing national crackdown on telemarketing fraud aimed at the elderly, Lindsay said.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno has made the issue one of her agency's top priorities. Federal and state agencies have joined with Canadian authorities to develop ways to curb such fraud.
Late last year, federal authorities launched an operation dubbed Senior Sentinel to close telemarketing schemes aimed at the elderly and to arrest fraudulent telemarketers. Authorities at the time raided five unrelated companies in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties and eventually arrested 15 people.
Other federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also have instituted programs to try to halt frauds against the elderly.
As a sign of the enhanced focus, the FBI jumped into the Maddux case as soon as agents were tipped off earlier this month.
The complaint itself accuses Maddux of trying to swindle an elderly Iowa woman of $14,000 in repeated calls that ranged from congratulating her on winning $76,000 to threatening to contact the Internal Revenue Service, which would make her life "a living hell" if she didn't send in the money for taxes.
The woman he called, however, had been victimized several times by telemarketers, and authorities had arranged for calls to be automatically transferred to the Iowa attorney general's office, where an employee posed as the elderly woman.
Maddux was held without bail because Magistrate Judge Ann I. Jones determined that he was a danger to the community and that she couldn't fashion a way to keep him away from the telephone. Besides using regular telephones at a nearly empty office and his home, Maddux also had a cellular phone and numerous prepaid calling cards, Lindsay said.