A woman has admitted she sent more than $26 million in counterfeit checks to South Mississippi victims and others in an international fraud schemes.
Susan Ann Villeneuve, 61, of Escalon, California, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Her victims include a Biloxi woman whose complaint of a romance scam caught the eye of Homeland Security Investigations in Gulfport. The Biloxi woman had met a man on a dating website and had become a victim. He asked her to receive merchandise, such as laptop computers and cellphones, and re-ship them to Pretoria, South Africa, court records show.
Another victim was a Lucedale woman. The checks sent to her bounced even as she wired part of the money as she was instructed.
Prosecutors have said items shipped to victims for re-shipping were bought with stolen identities and credit card information. The merchandise was sold for a profit overseas but at a $6.5 million loss in the U.S., prosecutors have said.
Villeneuve’s co-conspirators include Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, who wooed the Biloxi woman who had reported the scheme. Raheem, of South Africa, faces up to 115 years in prison.
Villeneuve faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and an extra two years in prison for stealing a person’s identity. She pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden.
She is free on bond pending her Aug. 22 sentencing.
Nearly 6,900 bogus checks
Villeneuve has admitted printing out at least 6,877 bogus checks from August 2010 through June 2013, according to her plea agreement. She used the U.S. Parcel Service, UPS and FedEx to deliver the checks.
The fraud investigation, begun several years ago, led to the arrests of 16 people in South Africa, Canada, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana and California. Others were arrested in related investigations.
HSI and other law enforcement agencies unraveled a complex assortment of scams, such as work-at-home schemes, that bilked hundreds of victims in the U.S. Checks they were paid for their services bounced.
HSI identified a West African organized-crime ring that used mass marketing and emails to solicit victims, an agent has testified. In some cases, the scammers took over the victims’ financial accounts.
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of one of the schemes can email the government at USAMSS.Scams@usdoj.gov.
The case is being prosecuted in Gulfport by Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams and attorneys Conor Mulroe and Peter Roman of the U.S. Justice Department.