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Prize Scam Artist Scores Time in Jail

April 22, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

An Anaheim man who bilked 7,500 people nationwide out of more than $2.5 million in a telemarketing scam has been sentenced to 37 months in prison, the U.S. attorney's office said Tuesday.

Roland Braff Berame, 40, also was ordered this week to pay a $7,500 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.

The former president of Prizewinners Inc. of Long Beach pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Robinson said.

From 1990 to 1993, Berame and his co-defendant, former Prizewinners Vice President Phillip Shaheen, ran offices in Long Beach, Los Alamitos and Garden Grove.

They and their employees called victims telling them they had won prizes but first needed to pay promotional fees or taxes, Robinson said.

They also sold overpriced merchandise to small-business owners, with the promise that their purchases gave them chances at winning prizes, he said.

"Prizewinners held itself out as a legitimate business," Robinson said, and in some cases maintained the image by giving lesser prizes to victims.

"The system was rigged so that the big prizes were never awarded."

Shaheen, 41, of Long Beach also has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy, as well as an additional count of wire fraud for his actions at a fraudulent telemarketer in Orange in 1996, Robinson said.

Shaheen is scheduled to be sentenced July 6.

"This was one of the largest, most egregious telemarketing operations we've prosecuted in our area," Robinson said.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," he warned, "particularly if there's any assurance of receiving a prize for which you have to pay in advance."

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