Second Canadian pleads guilty to being part of phone scam

Posted March 31, 2012, at 11:39 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A second Quebec man charged with being part of an international telephone scam pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen property in interstate commerce.

Sentencing dates have not been set for Michael Angelo Giuffrida, 22, or his co-defendant, Nour-El-Dean Mouneimneh, 21. Mouneimneh pleaded guilty to the same charges March 1.

By pleading guilty, the men admitted to being part of scheme that tricked people into wiring money to various locations. The pair picked up money orders in Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, but denied making the phone calls soliciting money, according to court documents.

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.

Victims include a Presque Isle woman and her son who sent a total of $56,000 in Western Union money orders last year to Ohio thinking they were aiding a relative. The woman told agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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 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.

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

The scam was discovered when agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection pulled in behind the pair to warn them about the flat 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, court documents stated. 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, the men agreed to forfeit the cash and money orders found in the car, according to court documents.

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 to victims whose money was not found in the car.

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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