Posted by on January 24, 2017 11:25 pm
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Categories: Brazil Department of Justice Economy FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation Finance Hong Kong internet money Money laundering new york city Pyramid scheme Securities and Exchange Commission Tax evasion Telexfree Twitter U.S. Attorney’s Office UBS Videotelephony Voice over IP VOIP

The FBI has seized $20 million dollars of cash, literally stuffed in a mattress in Westborough, Massachusetts, linked to the infamous TelexFree pyramid scheme that reportedly raised over $1 billion from gullible participants between January 2012 and March 2014.

According to the Department of Justice, the money was found after an associate of one the scheme’s founders, Brazilian-native Carlos Wanzeler, was caught trying to launder the ill-gotten cash through Hong Kong to his boss who has been hiding out in Brazil ever since the TelexFree headquarters were raided by FBI agents back in 2014.  Unfortunately, the person chosen to help with the money laundering scheme was an FBI informant…oops.

The complaint alleges that an intermediary working on Wanzeler’s behalf contacted an associate for help transferring millions of dollars of TelexFree money – still hidden in the greater Boston area – from the United States to Brazil. The associate, who subsequently became a cooperating witness for the government, allegedly arranged with Wanzeler’s nephew in Brazil to launder the cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian reals, and transfer it to Brazilian accounts.

According to court documents, Rocha, acting as a courier for Wanzeler’s nephew, flew from Brazil to JFK Airport in New York City a few days ago. Yesterday, Rocha met the cooperating witness at a restaurant in Hudson, Mass., and allegedly gave him $2.2 million in a suitcase. After the meeting, agents followed Rocha to an apartment complex in Westborough, Mass., and later arrested him. That night, federal agents searched an apartment at the Westborough complex and seized a massive stockpile of cash hidden in a box spring. The cash appears to total approximately $20 million.

For those not familiar with the TelexFree scheme, it spread around the world like wild fire back in 2012 and 2013 before being busted in March 2014.  Like most pyramid schemes, the company made 99% of it’s money by charging gullible participants a fee for the privilege of selling its “amazing VOIP telecommunications products” and about 1% actually selling those products.  Per the DOJ:

According to the complaint affidavit, TelexFree, Inc., and TelexFree LLC (collectively, “TelexFree”) provided “voice-over-internet-protocol” (“VOIP”) telephone services, for which customers can sign up via a web site maintained by TelexFree. It is alleged that TelexFree was actually a pyramid scheme and that between January 2012 and March 2014, TelexFree purported to aggressively market its VOIP service by recruiting thousands of “promoters” to post ads for the product on the Internet. Each promoter was required to “buy in” to TelexFree at a certain price, after which they were compensated by TelexFree, under a complex compensation structure, on a weekly basis so long as they posted ads for TelexFree’s VOIP service on the Internet.

It is alleged that the ad-posting requirements were a meaningless exercise, in which promoters cut and pasted ads into various classified ad sites provided by TelexFree which were already saturated with ads posted by earlier participants. According to the affidavit, TelexFree derived only a fraction of its revenue from sales of VOIP service – less than 1% of TelexFree’s hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over the last two years. The overwhelming majority of its revenue – the other roughly 99% – came from new people buying into the scheme. TelexFree was allegedly only able to pay the returns it had promised to its existing promoters by bringing in money from newly-recruited promoters.

On April 16, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission obtained a restraining order to freeze assets of Telexfree and eight related individuals. Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has executed 37 seizure warrants for assets in the tens of millions of dollars.

It is further alleged that in 2013, TelexFree reported sales of $1.016 billion, while known sales of the TelexFree VOIP product represented less than 0.1% percent of TelexFree’s total revenues.

Here is a great tutorial explaining exactly how the scheme worked:

There is a saying that “a fool and his money are soon parted”…here is an excellent visual representation of that proverb:

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