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SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday four Utah elder fraud cases involving 20 defendants that were part of a nationwide sweep.
United States Attorney General William Barr’s office has charged more than 400 defendants nationwide in connection with the cases in the sweep, up from 260 people charged in a similar operation last year, the news release said.
More than $1 billion was allegedly lost in connection with the cases nationwide, officials said.
In the first Utah case, U.S. v. Rust, federal officials allege that Gaylen Rust convinced investors to give him $193 million over the past five years, but made Ponzi payments and supported his own lifestyle with their money, according to a news release.
Prosecutors allege that Rust, along with several others, sold investments to at least 500 investors over at least 20 years, the release states. They promised the investors high returns through buying, selling and trading silver, authorities said.
The average age of investors in the case was 60, and the oldest was 94, federal authorities said. The investors were encouraged to take funds from home equity or retirement funds, according to the release.
The case is set to go to trial in May.
“Protecting elderly and vulnerable members in Utah communities is one of our highest priorities. Those who target and take advantage of them should know that we will hold them accountable,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in the release.
The three other Utah cases are:
- U.S. v. Fairbanks: Thomas Fairbanks, of Logan, is charged with wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors allege he gained trust from a vulnerable adult and diverted at least $462,000 of her money to use himself, according to the release. That case is set for trial on June 8.
- U.S. v. Anyanwu: This case involves eight people who allegedly targeted widowed women who were age 65 and older over a period of two years, the release states. They used social media and social gaming apps to target dozens of widows and defraud them of more than $6 million, authorities said. Prosecutors allege the group created false identities and then feigned romantic interest in the women and then pressured them to send money. The trial for U.S. v. Anyawu is set for May.
- U.S. v. Powell: The case involves eight people who are charged with trying to get money and assets from a 90-year-old widow from Washington, Utah, the release states. The defendants in the case are related to one another and falsely promised to perform work on the woman’s property, prosecutors allege. One of the co-defendants in the case also enticed the woman to start a romantic relationship with him in order to convince her to send him money and assets. The trial date for the case is set for April.
Also Tuesday, Barr announced the creation of a new National Elder Fraud Hotline.
The hotline, 833-FRAUD-11, provides services to senior citizens who are possible victims of financial fraud. It will be staffed with case managers who can report fraud cases to any relevant agencies and provide resources and referrals to callers.
“Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” Barr said in the release. “(The Department of Justice) is committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors.”
Correction: This story misstated the office in charge of the cases and has been updated from the Utah Attorney General’s Office to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.