‘Grandparent scam’: 3 plead guilty to defrauding seniors of $350K

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Three men have pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges after federal prosecutors accused them of scamming senior citizens out of $350,000.

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According to WJAR-TV and The Associated Press, 22-year-olds Bryan Valdez-Espinosa and Diego A. Alarcon, both of Union City, New Jersey, and Jason Hatcher, 40, of New York City, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the so-called “grandparent scam.” Hatcher also pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island announced in a news release Tuesday.

Prosecutors said the trio defrauded 14 Rhode Island seniors, ages 79 to 94, of $9,500 to $85,000 each in the scheme, collecting a total of $350,815.

“The victims ... were contacted by telephone by callers impersonating family members or attorneys,” the release said. “These callers falsely told the victims that a loved one, generally a grandchild, had been arrested after being involved in a motor vehicle accident and needed cash bail. The victims were directed to gather cash for these fake bail payments, and told to provide the money to a courier that would be sent to their home.”

The men will be sentenced in October, the release said.

“Few things are more frightening than thinking a family member is in trouble,” U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said in a statement. “These defendants exploited that fear to steal from loving grandparents and line their own pockets. Thanks to superb investigative work by our local law enforcement partners and the Department of Homeland Security, I am pleased that, with today’s guilty pleas, each of these defendants will answer for their fraud.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.