A widow from Kiln fell in love with a con man who wiped out her savings and now she’s going to prison with six others for online fraud scams committed around the world.
Ann Louise Franzen, 70, received a five-year prison term on a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property.
She and the others were sentenced Wednesday for their roles in a variety of scams. The scams used mystery shopper, work-at-home and romance schemes to dupe people who were paid with counterfeit checks.
Franzen had been devastated by her husband’s death from a motorcycle crash in December 2002, but family members later learned “there was someone in her life that cared about her. She seemed to be happy again,” her brother-in-law, Robert Franzen, wrote in a letter to Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.
Nieces and nephews soon began calling with concerns because the new man in her life was asking her for money and she was sending it, he wrote.
She had received money from her husband’s life insurance policy.
“Soon it was to the point she was going through her savings,” Robert Franzen wrote. “She was getting close to bankruptcy.”
Family members could not get her to understand she was being scammed, he said.
“My understanding is that at some point a woman got in touch with Ann and offered her a way to get some of her money back and, being desperate, she accepted the offer not realizing it was a continuation of the scam,” he wrote. “This is what got her into the legal trouble.”
Her sister-in-law, Caroline Rolfsen, and a friend, Susan Sales, both wrote letters to the judge saying the same thing — Ann Franzen had been taken in.
“He told her all the things she wanted to hear and being the person she is, she believed it; she broke ties with the world and before she knew it she was living in a make-believe world,” Sales wrote. “She told us he was a very rich man and he was trying to come to America so they could be together but all his money was tied up.”
Franzen was brain-washed but had said she had been threatened that if she didn’t do what they asked, “they would hurt her family,” Rolfsen said.
Franzen at first was considered a victim in 2012 when Homeland Security Investigations in Gulfport interviewed her and searched her home. She had received $3.1 million in counterfeit checks and money orders, according to court testimony.
How it began
The investigation started after Customs and Border Patrol agents began intercepting packages containing millions of dollars in fake checks and money orders. An HSI probe uncovered Nigerian-type scams that began Aug. 13, 2001, and continued through June 3, 2015.
The scams solicited workers or lovers via emails and the internet. Victims were paid to receive and re-ship expensive items, including jewelry, purses, computers and cellphones. The items were bought with fake credit cards and stolen identities. Workers were instructed to deposit checks in their accounts, keep part of it and wire the rest to someone else.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams; Conor Mulroe, trial attorney from the Organized Crime and Gang Section; and Peter Roman, senior counsel of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
Franzen and the others were part of a global financial fraud conspiracy, according to a joint press release from Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi and Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer Jr. of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
She and six others were sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations in Gulfport.
Guirola imposed a 10-year prison term to Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tennessee. Both pleaded had guilty to a conspiracy charge, theft of government property, use of mail and interstate facility to distribute proceeds of racketeering activity.
He gave the same prison term to those who pleaded guilty to the same crimes as Franzen. They are Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, California; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, California; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, California.
Guirola will prepare restitution orders, court records show.