Judge skeptical of Canadian’s claim of limited role in ‘grandparent scam’; imposes 2-year sentence

Posted June 11, 2012, at 8:02 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Canadian man was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court to two years in federal prison for his part in a fraud scheme that federal prosecutors believe bilked elderly women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by telling them a grandchild or other relative desperately needed money.

Nour-El-Dean Mouneimneh, 21, of Quebec apologized “to everyone who got harmed by my actions” but he did not cooperate with federal prosecutors and reveal what he knew about how the scheme worked.

Mouneimneh (pronounced MAWN-ah-may) told U.S. District Judge John Woodcock shortly before the sentence was imposed that he did not cooperate with investigators out of fear of what would happen to him when he returned home. The defendant also said that he was a low-level participant in the scheme who just collected money that was wired to cities he was sent to. He said that he had minimal knowledge of how the scheme worked and used code names for himself and higher-ups.

Woodcock expressed suspicion about Mouneimneh’s claim that he had a minimal role in the scam. The judge said the defendant had the knowledge, ability and opportunity to initiate, execute and reap the rewards of the scheme.

“The defendant admitted only what he did not deny,” Woodcock said in imposing the sentence. “That is his right under the Fifth Amendment, but it leaves a spotty record with question upon question unanswered.”

Woodcock said Monday that the scheme involved someone, usually a male in his 20s, calling an elderly female to say that a grandson or other young relative had been arrested or in an accident and needed money for medical bills or a lawyer. The person on the phone then would instruct the women to wire money to locations in states where the relative supposedly had gotten into trouble.

No victims attended Monday’s sentencing hearing, but at least five victims submitted statements about the impact the crime had had on them. The judge noted that all had expressed how being the victim of a crime that preyed on their emotions had left them distrustful and anxious. One woman said she had installed caller ID and answered her phone only when she recognized the number, Woodcock said.

In addition to prison time, Woodcock sentenced Mouneimneh to one year of supervised release and ordered him to pay $116,117 in restitution. About $104,000 of that money was recovered from the car Mouneimneh was a passenger in when he was arrested more than 15 months ago. The total to be repaid is $12,117, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney James McCarthy, who prosecuted the case.

Mouneimneh was one of two Canadian men charged with being part of an international telephone scam that has reached into the United States, Canada, Mexico and Spain, according McCarthy.

Co-defendant Michael Angelo Giuffrida, 22, of Quebec and Mouneimneh pleaded guilty earlier this year to transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen property in interstate commerce.

A sentencing date for Giuffrida (pronounced JAH-froo-dah), who was Mouneimneh’s driver, has not been set.

Both men 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 federal 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.

Mouneimneh faced up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, he faced between 1½ and two years in prison.

Giuffrida faces the same sentence Mouneimneh did.

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