A man admitted he laundered more than $800,000 in a “grandparent scam” that fooled U.S. seniors into sending money to young relatives that thought were in trouble, was sentenced Thursday to four and a half years in federal prison.
Stephan Moskwyn,33, a Canadian citizen, has been incarcerated since October. Moskwyn plead guilty to a money laundering charge in Miami federal court. Investigators said he knowingly laundered money obtained by a Canadian calling center that victimized elderly U.S. residents since 2014.
Employees at the call center phoned potential victims all over the United States and pretended they were relatives, usually grandchildren, who had been hospitalized, or jailed and needed money, according to Homeland Security Investigations agents.
Some of the victims who fell for the hoax were instructed to send money orders that were later cashed in the Dominican Republic, Chile and other countries, according to prosecutors. Other victims were told to send virtual money orders, or Moneypaks; and those were converted into Bitcoin.
Moskwyn’s role in the crime involved him using complicated financial transactions using money orders, and pre-paid debit cards in the U.S. to convert some of the virtual money orders into Bitcoins.
“Bitcoin transactions are very difficult to track, thats why criminals use it,” prosecutor Michael Berger wrote in the court records.
One of the victims spoke to the Miami-Herald newspaper saying, “He just preyed on my emotions, telling me that he had just been arrested after a fight at a McDonald’s and needed $4,000 dollars to make bail and pay his lawyer. Instead of sending the original $4,000 they requested only $2,000. I tried to reach my grandson, but was unable to until after I sent the money. I asked him if he was in jail, and he just laughed. It was then I realized I made a terrible mistake.”
Witnesses who were secretly cooperating with investigators met with Moskwyn in Broward and Miami-Dade counties last year when he visited South Florida. Moskwyn also used some of the pre-paid debit cards, to buy money orders at a Publix store in Broward County early last year.
In a conversation in that was recorded in February 2015, Moskwyn was recorded saying he knew the money was obtained from an illegal “grandma scam”. According to his plea agreement, he explained that the scammers were so convincing that some of the good hearted victims sent even more money that was requested and followed the callers instructions on how to forward the money.
Homeland Security cracked he scheme by tapping two accomplices turned cooperating witnesses who owned accounts on localbitcoins.com in Miami and Denver. According to the defendants statement they converted the Moneypaks for a person with the screen name “alevine843”, who texted them. This person referred to as Levine and later exposed as Moskwyn, said he was from Canada. The witnesses converted more than 833,000 into bitcoin for Levine from May to November 2014. The two witnesses also said Levine had other trading partners, and estimated he likely converted several million dollars worth of Moneypaks.
The witnesses arranged to meet with Levine in Miami last February to discuss a new virtual money order. Tags on Levine’s rental indicated it was rented to Moskwyn.
Moskwyn was arrested in October during a layover at Miami International Airport on his way from the Dominican Republic to Chile.