A federal grand jury in Las Vegas returned an indictment Wednesday charging a Nevada man with using fraudulent checks to steal money from victims’ bank accounts. Michael Zeto, 76, of Las Vegas, is charged in a 20-count indictment with wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He made his initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
According to court documents, Zeto partnered with foreign telemarketers who provided Zeto with the names, bank account numbers and other personal information for American consumers who supposedly had purchased products. These consumers often had not, in fact, agreed to purchase the products and had not authorized anyone to debit their bank accounts.
Zeto allegedly knew that at least one of his telemarketing partners was engaged in fraud, that many of the supposed sales sent by his telemarketing partners were not real sales and that consumers had not authorized debits from their bank accounts. Despite knowing that sales were fraudulent, the indictment alleges that Zeto (using the information provided by his telemarketing partners) created fraudulent checks payable to companies he controlled and arranged to open accounts with banks and payment processors in the United States to deposit the fraudulent checks — thereby taking and attempting to take millions of dollars from victims’ accounts. The indictment also alleges that Zeto knew that many of the victims were older Americans and that he took steps to reduce the likelihood that financial institutions would scrutinize, and possibly close, the bank accounts into which he was depositing the fraudulent checks.
“The defendant is charged with acting as a vital link in a scheme with foreign telemarketing partners to defraud American victims,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting older Americans from fraud, including people who knowingly help fraudsters.”
“This indictment reflects our office’s commitment to bring to justice criminals who prey on the elderly,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou for the District of Nevada. “Working closely with the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and our law enforcement partners, we will continue to prosecute fraudsters who target seniors and other vulnerable Nevada residents. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the Department of Justice’s National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).”
“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in society,” said Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group. “The Inspection Service has been at the forefront of protecting customers from fraud schemes for many years and we will continue to investigate and stop those who exploit older Americans for their own illegal gains.”
“This indictment charges the defendant for his alleged role in a fraudulent check scheme that took and attempted to take millions of dollars from the bank accounts of American consumers,” said Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC OIG). “The FDIC OIG remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to pursue those who seek to defraud banking customers and threaten the integrity of the banking system.”
If convicted, Zeto faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for wire fraud and 30 years for bank fraud and a mandatory two-year term of imprisonment for aggravated identity theft. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-Office of Inspector General are investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Daniel Zytnick and Timothy Finley of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Anthony Lopez of the District of Nevada are prosecuting the case.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud, and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. Information about the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud Initiative is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.