Seven Israeli citizens wanted in the US for allegedly running a phony lottery scam and bilking elderly Americans out of $2.5 million will be extradited to the US, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Wednesday.
Targeting wealthy victims, mostly 75 and older, the suspects supposedly pretended to be calling from lottery sweepstakes companies and convinced people to send thousands of dollars in fees and taxes associated with their 'wins.' Victims were plied with gift baskets and phony Internal Revenue Service documents to convince them of the sweepstakes' legitimacy.
Israeli officers arrested the seven suspects in July following a joint investigation by the FBI and the Israel Police. Along with two Israeli women who turned themselves in voluntarily, the suspects face charges that include conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and could face up to 30 years in prison.
According to prosecutors, the suspects chose their victims via list brokers in the US, who sold them the names and contact information of Americans who had entered lottery sweepstakes. Working from various locations in Israel, the suspects allegedly contacted the victims, and using scripts, told them they had won "substantial" cash prizes from companies such as "Clearinghouse Sweepstakes" and "Consumers Clearinghouse."
From 2005 to 2009, the suspects obtained 185,000 names of potential victims from brokers, prosecutors said.
Over the phone, the suspects allegedly assessed the victims' finances, and if they were wealthy enough, transferred them to co-conspirators posing as attorneys from law firms such as "Bernstein Schwartz," "Bloomberg and Associates" and "Meyer Stevens." The so-called attorneys provided instructions for wiring funds to Israel, the US and Cyprus.
E.B. Solomont contributed to this report