The ringleader of telephone scammers who demanded ransom from more than 55 people, including in Nassau County and in Brooklyn, after claiming they had abducted their relatives pleaded guilty Tuesday, state prosecutors said.
Giovani Ayala-Rodriguez, 27, of Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree conspiracy, both felonies, Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. He will be sentenced to 6 to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $14,500 in restitution when he returns to court on Oct. 30, she said.
Underwood said multiple complaints prompted her office to issue a consumer alert in March. Also scammed were residents of eight upstate counties, she said. The arrests of Ayala-Rodriguez and two others were announced in May.
“Terrorizing innocent New Yorkers in order to make a quick buck is unconscionable,” Underwood said in a news release Tuesday.
In the extortion scheme, Ayala-Rodriguez would call sequential telephone numbers and, when someone answered, claim his nephew had been injured by their relatives in a car crash, prosecutors said.
He would say he had abducted siblings, spouses or parents from the crash location and that the relatives would be held until he received enough money to cover his nephew’s medical bills, prosecutors said. If someone hesitated, he would threaten to kill the hostages, claiming he and his nephew were gang members or drug dealers.
“To further instill fear, he would mimic the sounds of the victim’s relative begging, crying, and being assaulted,” the attorney general’s office said.
Ayala-Rodriguez made the phone calls, while two others picked up the ransom, prosecutors said. The co-defendants were identified as Eligio Jimenez-Correa, 40, and Orlando Gonzalez-Rivera, 26, both of Syracuse.
On Aug. 24, Gonzalez-Rivera pleaded guilty to felony fourth-degree conspiracy and was sentenced to 6 months in jail, prosecutors said Tuesday. Jimenez-Correa’s case has yet to conclude.
A lawyer for Ayala-Rodriguez declined to comment. Lawyers for the other two defendants were not immediately available.
Some of the trio’s victims were given “drop locations” for delivering the ransom while others were instructed to wire funds to accounts in the United States or Puerto Rico, prosecutors said. Walmart money transfers also were used.
“New Yorkers should continue to be on high alert and use our tips to protect themselves from scam calls,” Underwood said.
She and other law enforcement officials who investigated the extortion, including State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II, advised that this kind of extortion “depends on fear” and said scammers will be in a rush and try to keep people on the phone so their claims could not be verified. The officials advised:
- Never give out personal information to a stranger on the phone.
- Never wire money to a stranger.
- Never purchase gift or money cards to give the gift card numbers to someone else.
- Contact the police if you get such a call.