BANGOR, Maine — A second 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 have said bilked elderly women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by telling them a grandchild or other relative desperately needed money.
Michael Angelo Giuffrida, 23, of Quebec City claimed he did not know the instigators of the scheme and simply drove his co-defendant, Nour-El-Dean Mouneimneh, 21, of Quebec City, from Ohio to Maine to collect money that was wired to cities the pair was sent to.
Giuffrida and Mouneimneh pleaded guilty earlier this year to transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen property in interstate commerce. Mouneimneh also was sentenced to two years in federal prison in June.
“I’m very sorry,” Giuffrida told U.S. District Judge John Woodcock shortly before he imposed the sentence Monday. “I wasn’t thinking the way I normally would. I put myself before other people.
“Having read the victims’ [impact statements], I now have an understanding of what happened to them,” the defendant continued. “I have a lot of shame for what I did.”
The scam involved someone, usually a male in his 20s, calling an elderly female to say the grandson or other young relative had been arrested or been in an accident and needed money for a lawyer or medical bills, according to court documents. 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.
Giuffrida paid $2,500 toward the $116,117 in restitution the judge ordered him to pay jointly with Mouneimneh. About $104,000 of that money was recovered from the car Giuffrida was driving when he was arrested more than 15 months ago. The total to be repaid before Giuffrida gave the court a check for $2,500 on Monday was $12,117, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney James McCarthy, who prosecuted the case.
“Paying $2,500 is not like in Monopoly,” Woodcock said Monday, referring to the popular board game. “It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is one of the most despicable, cynical and amoral crimes to come before this court. If I had any real evidence you were actually involved in the conspiracy itself, you would be as old as the grandparents themselves before you saw your freedom.”
Giuffrida, like his co-defendant, had been held without bail since March 26, 2011, when the Canadians were arrested. They came to the attention of law enforcement officers after pulling 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 travelers checks. They also found seven cellphones, a laptop and a global positioning device in duffel bags in the trunk.
Both men faced up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, they each faced between 1½ and two years in prison.