Scheme to Extort Americans by Impersonating DEA Agents Foiled
Twenty-one (21) citizens of the Dominican Republic have been charged with conspiring to impersonate U.S. law enforcement officers, extortion, and wire fraud, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart and U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced this week.
Seventeen (17) of the defendants were arrested by Dominican authorities in the Dominican Republic, at the request of the U.S., and are now awaiting extradition proceedings. Four defendants remain at large.
According to the DEA press release on the takedown, the defendants posed as DEA agents or other representatives of the federal government in order to extort money from individuals in the U.S. The defendants targeted those who they believed had illicitly purchased prescription pharmaceuticals through call centers in the Dominican Republic, and then told those individuals they were under investigation and would avoid jail time by paying a “fine” or other fee to the DEA. Collectively, the defendants and others involved in similar schemes demanded at least $3.5 million and received at least $880,000 in extortion payments.
“These alleged criminals not only bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting Americans but they also called into question the integrity and honor of the DEA and all law enforcement,” Administrator Leonhart said. "The DEA, with the assistance of our Dominican Republic counterparts, have worked diligently to identify, target and, ultimately, dismantle this group of alleged scam artists. We urge anyone who receives a similar threatening phone call to hang up and contact local or federal law enforcement immediately.”
“These defendants generated untold millions of dollars in illicit profits by posing as DEA Agents or other U.S. law enforcement officers. They carried out the internet or telephone equivalent of displaying phony badges to rip off their victims. In the process, the defendants assaulted the good name of the DEA. We commend the DEA for putting a stop to this criminal charade,” said United States Attorney Bharara.
Those instrumental in the case included DEA’s Special Operations Division, DEA New York Field Division, DEA’s Dominican Republic Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI), and the Dominican National Directorate for Drug Control.