Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Schuylkill County Woman Sentenced to 5+ Years in Prison for Perpetrating Elder Financial Fraud Known as “Grandparents Scheme”

United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced on Tuesday that Yahaira Diaz, 33, of Pottsville, was sentenced to 65 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay more than $165,000 in restitution by United States District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl for her leadership of an elder fraud scheme commonly known as the “Grandparents Scheme.”

The defendant was immediately taken into custody after the hearing Tuesday.

The scheme operated as follows: an individual called an elderly victim posing as the grandchild of the victim, or posing as an attorney representing the grandchild. The caller claimed that the grandchild was in a vehicular accident and was arrested for driving under the influence (or some type of legal trouble). The caller then said that the grandchild needed money for bail or legal representation, and persuaded the victim to send thousands of dollars in cash via overnight delivery service to an address where the schemers retrieved the package. The schemers then continued to call the victim and demanded more money until the victim realized that he or she had been defrauded and stopped sending money.

Diaz played a leadership role in this scheme, which was based in Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. For example, she identified and arranged for access to residential locations where her co-schemers instructed victims to send the fraud proceeds. Diaz recruited and controlled additional participants in the scheme who allowed her to use their residences for the receipt of proceeds, and who helped retrieve the packages and shared the proceeds with other co-schemers. Diaz engaged in numerous incidents of the Grandparents Scheme, as well as credit card fraud. In the Grandparents Scheme, Diaz and her co-schemers defrauded at least 10 elderly victims of at least $158,800 and attempted to defraud those victims of at least an additional $69,000.

“Diaz’s actions here were despicable: she callously preyed upon vulnerable seniors by exploiting their concern for their loved ones. And she played a leadership role, which makes her actions even more deserving of condemnation,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “Today, Diaz got what she deserved. My Office will continue to prioritize prosecuting criminals who prey upon our elderly residents.”

“Yahaira Diaz played a central role in this scam,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. “She had no compunction about swindling elderly victims out of their money, or playing on their emotions to do so. The FBI will never stop working to shut down elder fraud schemes like this, to protect older folks from those who would take advantage of them.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Service, the Bethlehem Police Department, and the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office, and is being prosecuted by Deputy United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen.

The Department of Justice is committed to combating elder fraud. The Department’s historic 2018 and 2019 Elder Fraud Sweeps collectively brought criminal and civil actions against more than 500 defendants responsible for defrauding more than $1.5 billion from at least 3 million victims.