Suspect in $1.3 million fraud detained by judge
A Cuban national suspected of collecting more than $1.3 million from 784 fraud victims across the United States, including many in Arkansas, was detained Friday in Little Rock.
“If I let him walk out of this courthouse … he could, in 24 hours, be anywhere in the world,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Ray said after ordering Angel Chapotin Carrillo, 42, to remain in the custody of U.S. marshals until his trial, tentatively scheduled for August.
Carrillo is one of seven people arrested in April in south Florida after a federal grand jury in Little Rock indicted them and three others on charges related to a nationwide scheme to steal nearly $9 million from unsuspecting taxpayers by impersonating Internal Revenue Service agents.
The grand jury indicted the first two, Jenniffer Valerino Nunez, 21, and Dennis Delgado Caballero, 39, both of Miami, on June 8, 2016. The others, including one person who remained at large Friday, were added to the indictment in April. All are charged with wire fraud.
At Carrillo’s detention hearing Friday afternoon, Agent Floyd Orrell, one of many federal agents involved in the multijurisdictional case based in Little Rock, said Carrillo “was identified as arguably the No. 2 or No. 3 person in the scheme.”
Carrillo, who listened to the proceedings and used an interpreter, asked through attorney Richard Mays Jr. to be released, on electronic monitoring if necessary, until trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Bridges objected on the grounds Carrillo, who is believed to have used at least 20 aliases while traveling between 17 states, is a flight risk.
Ray agreed, citing Orrell’s testimony about Carrillo’s ability to travel easily across the country, using false identities to collect $1,339,336 over 17 months from money-wiring services, usually in WalMart stores. Orrell said the money was wired from other locations across the country, after people pretending to be IRS agents called the victims and persuaded them they had to pay a tax debt immediately or face legal action.
Orrell said the callers told the victims they would be arrested within two hours, or a lawsuit would be filed against them by the end of the day, if they didn’t agree to immediately go to their bank, obtain an agreed-upon amount of cash and then wire it to a specific recipient in another state. Orrell said the callers always kept the victims on the phone throughout the ordeal, threatening victims with immediate legal action if the call was disconnected.
Once the money was sent, sometimes using a smartphone app, the victim would give the caller the transaction number, and a runner such as Carrillo would be dispatched to pick it up, he said.
Orrell, an agent for the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said schemers most often used Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer, because the service only required recipients to supply a name and address to pick up the money.
He said the money didn’t have to be sent to any particular Wal-Mart location, and could be picked up at any Wal-Mart in the state to which it was sent. At MoneyGram stations, he said, recipients were required to show identification and fill out a receipt.
Carrillo, using false identification if necessary, sometimes drove, and sometimes caught a flight, to retrieve the money, Orrell said. He called Carrillo one of the scheme’s “top runners,” according to other people who have been arrested in the scheme.
The agent said official-looking false identification documents, including Social Security cards, are believed to have been supplied by someone in Florida connected to Yosvany Padilla, 26, one of those indicted in Little Rock who Orrell identified as “the main leader of this particular group.”
He said Carrillo started out using his own name to collect anywhere from “a few hundred to a few thousand” dollars a day, from one or multiple wire-service pickup locations. On one day in particular, he said, records show Carrillo used his own name to collect 15 wire transfers, each from a separate victim, in 10 stores in Winston-Salem, N.C.
On another occasion, he said, Carrillo used the alias Ismael Horton to collect 19 wire transfers in one day in Arkansas.
The agent said Carrillo is believed to have collected 50 wire transfers over a few days’ time in various Arkansas towns including Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs Village, Sherwood, Benton, Cabot, Jacksonville and Heber Springs.
Orrell said runners used different sites in the same area to avoid drawing attention to themselves and because sometimes the scam depleted all the cash at one wire-transfer location, requiring the service to keep runners waiting while it restocked — which made the runners nervous.
In response to the judge’s questions, Orrell said Carrillo was brought into the United States in late October 2015, with the assistance of a citizen, and his work visa is valid through Oct. 28. The agent said many of the other people involved in the scam are believed to have come into the country through Mexico by seeking refugee status.
Carrillo said he came to the United States “for a better future,” and worked in Florida cleaning and doing other services for a yacht company.
“I would like to remain in the United States. Always. It is my dream,” he said through the interpreter.
Although he said he has a sister living in Florida who is a legal resident, Ray indicated a pretrial services officer in Florida reported Carrillo’s father and seven siblings all live in Cuba, and Carrillo had “strong family ties” in Cuba.
Carrillo said the brothers and sisters he has in Cuba “are not blood brothers,” and his father is his only “blood relative” in Cuba.