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Merrick man pleads guilty in national direct-mail scam defrauding seniors

Shaun Sullivan of Merrick last July.

Shaun Sullivan of Merrick last July. Credit: James Carbone

A second Long Islander has pleaded guilty in a "cruel hoax," scamming more than $30 million from the elderly and other victims through prize promotions that never existed, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Shaun Sullivan, 37, of Merrick, had worked with ringleader Tully Lovisa in a six-year enterprise that sent mailings across the country and convinced victims to send fees, generally $20-$25, to claim the faux prizes. Under the scheme, which started in 2010, the most any of the victims ever got back was a $1 prize check, according to authorities.

Sullivan pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Central Islip to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He faces up to 20 years in prison, forfeiture and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss from the offense. His attorney could not be immediately reached Tuesday night.

Sullivan "lined his own pockets with the fees he extracted from the victims," Richard Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said in a statement. 

Sullivan and Lovisa ran the direct-mail operation and disguised their involvement in the business by using aliases and straw owners — some of whom were Panamanian nationals — to serve as presidents of shell companies, according to federal officials. They made the businesses appear sophisticated, with employees, offices, organizational structures and official-sounding names, according to the indictment against the two men and other defendants. Mailings were signed by people with official-sounding titles, such as "Payment Agent," "Prize Director" and "Treasurer, Cash-Award Signatory for the Payments Division," or by a representative of the "Notification Office" or "Cash Claim Department," the complaint said. But none of the people and departments existed in the shell companies, federal officials said.

Authorities touted the case, handled also by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Justice Department's civil and consumer protection units, as an example of how agencies work together to target criminals that target the elderly. Since Congress and President Donald Trump approved the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, the Justice Department has worked on hundreds of enforcement actions in cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In February, authorities announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 200 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep.

Lovisa, of Huntington Station, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in October to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. He masterminded the scam in violation of court orders that stemmed from a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit filed to stop him from sending out deceptive prize-promotion mailings, authorities said.

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