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O.C. Phone Fraud Crackdown Nets 2

Telemarketing: The men plead guilty to swindling the elderly out of $188,000 with bogus promises of cash prizes.

September 16, 1997|JAMES S. GRANELLI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A federal task force aimed at curbing illegal telemarketing schemes in Orange County snared its first targets Monday when two small operators pleaded guilty to fraud in running phony prize promotions that bilked the elderly.

Jeffrey Meyer of Rancho Santa Margarita and James Peck of Placentia admitted swindling senior citizens nationwide out of a total of $188,000 in separate scams.

Their operations are among eight that have been closed since the task force, County of Orange Boiler Room Apprehension (COBRA), was formed in January to try to make a dent in one of the longtime hotbeds for telemarketing fraud.

"We have a great deal of illegal telemarketing in the county; there's a definite problem," said Assistant U.S. Atty. S. Robert Raskin Jr., the coordinator for COBRA.

The task force, led by the FBI and the Orange County Sheriff's Department, has conducted nine raids, seized more than $250,000 in funds from suspect operations and intercepted more than $50,000 in victim funds en route to suspects.

Both Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and the Federal Trade Commission, which also is part of the task force, have put a top priority on investigating telemarketing schemes that trap the elderly.

The two who pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana were the first of what Raskin hopes will be a continuing stream of prosecutions of illegal telemarketers.

Meyer, 29, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud in connection with a series of telemarketing operations known as Express Systems, Omega Systems, Pacific International, Lincoln International and Colonial Pacific.

Meyer and his aides called elderly victims and falsely told them that they had won large cash prizes, Raskin said. Meyer and several unindicted co-conspirators told the victims that they would have to pay certain fees or taxes--often as high at $7,500--to collect the prize.

After the victims paid the money, Meyer and his cohorts would keep the funds without awarding the promised prize. Raskin said Meyer defrauded a dozen victims of more than $140,000.

Meyer faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $1-million fine at his sentencing Dec. 19 before U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler.

Peck, 30, ran a nearly identical scam, bilking more than 50 seniors out of more than $48,000, the prosecutor said.

Peck faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine at his sentencing, scheduled for Dec. 8 before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor.

Both men were released on appearance bonds pending their sentences: Meyer on a $100,000 bond; Peck on a $25,000 bond.

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