Canadian man pleads guilty to being part of international phone scam

Posted March 01, 2012, at 1:16 p.m.
Last modified March 01, 2012, at 3:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — One of two Quebec men charged with being part of an international telephone scam in the United States and Canada pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen property in interstate commerce.

A sentencing date has not been set for Nour-El-Dean Mouneimneh, 21. His co-defendant, Michael Angelo Giuffrida, 22, is scheduled to plead guilty to the same charges on March 22 in federal court in Bangor.

Both have been held without bail since March 26, 2011, when the Canadians pulled their rental car into a Houlton truck stop with a flat tire, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection pulled in behind the pair to warn them about the tire. When the men gave conflicting stories about when and where they entered the United States, the agents brought in a K-9 dog to sniff the car, the affidavit said. After the dog indicated the presence of contraband, agents searched the car.

In the spare tire well, agents found $89,808 in U.S. currency, $200 in Canadian money and $10,440 in Western Union traveler’s checks. They also found seven cellphones, a laptop and a global positioning device in duffel bags in the trunk.

By pleading guilty to the charges, Mouneimneh (pronounced MOON-ah-may) agreed to forfeit the cash and money orders found in the car, according to court documents.

From the traveler’s checks, investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that a Presque Isle woman and her son had sent a total of $56,000 in Western Union money orders to the pair during the month of March, according to the affidavit. The woman told ICE agents that she had received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a police sergeant in New York who said her grandson had been in an accident and was in trouble in Cincinnati, Ohio, and needed money.

The grandson, identified in the affidavit by the initials “W.S.,” left Portland about six years ago for Ohio and the grandmother had no contact information for him, according to the affidavit.

The investigation, with assistance from a Canadian watchdog group called Phonebusters, led to victims in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Jersey, and clerks where the money orders were retrieved identified Giuffrida (pronounced JAH-froo-dah) and Mouneimneh from photos, according to the affidavit.

Mouneimneh denied initiating the scheme in a court document filed Tuesday by his attorney, James Nixon of Bangor. The defendant said that he and Giuffrida traveled to several states to pick up the money orders but did not make phone calls seeking the payments.

Information about who was behind the scam is not included in court documents filed in federal court in Maine.

Each man faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. They likely would be ordered to pay restitution. Both men agreed to waive their right to appeal their sentences to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston if their sentences are no longer than two years, according to court documents.

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